2011 in Review: Hits and Misses

Before we make resolutions, says Michael Steele, we should reflect on lessons learned last year.

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Liu Jin-Pool; Dennis Brack; Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

So what have you resolved to do in the new year? Get yourself organized? Lose those Christmas pounds that somehow seem to have already attached themselves to the pounds you gained last Christmas? Spend more time with the family? How about finally taking a vacation (presumably with that family you just resolved to spend more time with)? It's the thought that counts, right?

Believe it or not, there is a story, if not a history, behind the idea of making resolutions at the start of a new year. According to legend, the mythical Roman King Janus, for whom the month January is named, could both look to the past and see into the future and had the power to forgive minor transgressions. At the end of the year, Romans would exchange gifts or promise to atone for the year's mistakes in order to win Janus' forgiveness and blessings.

And thus the act of gift giving and the New Year's resolution were born! As we look back on the year that was 2011, some folks in Washington and in capitals around the globe may have more than a little atoning to do for their previous year's misdeeds. But before we resolve to do better in the new year, and in keeping with the tradition started by those Romans, let's take a quick look at the recent past to remember some of the events, people and images that have shaped our lives.

And what a year it was -- from the tragic (the January shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz.) to the sublime (her return to the House floor to vote on raising the debt ceiling in August) to the ridiculous (President Obama having to release his long-form birth certificate, Harold Camping's doomsday predictions and Casey Anthony's not-guilty verdict); from the politically brave (Rep. Paul Ryan introducing a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's budget and Saudi Arabia granting women the right to vote) to the politically stupid (Rep. Anthony Weiner, IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Herman Cain resigning their posts or quitting their campaigns because of scandal) to the politically important (the killing of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Muammar Qaddafi; the Arab Spring protests and Occupy Wall Street).

Not to mention the floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and budget talks; the final mission of the space shuttle; the rebirth of the labor movement; and Lady Gaga dethroning Oprah Winfrey from the No. 1 spot on Forbes magazine's top 100 celebrities list! Yes, it was quite a year.

Of course, no reflection upon the past year would be complete without some superlatives:

The Best Political Move: Restructuring the Republican Primary Process

By making late primaries relevant again, the GOP has ensured that it will nominate the strongest candidate who demonstrates his or her mettle over the long run. Granted, Florida bucked the new rules and the current Republican National Committee leadership blinked instead of standing firm, but given the current jumbled field, if the old system was left in place and the earliest contests determined the race (which is why Florida cut in line), Republican voters would risk a severe case of buyer's remorse and the 2012 presidential election would become a mere formality (for some it already is).

The Most Underrated Person: Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

He is the most effective governor in America, period. He also may be the smartest and the most politically adept -- in what was once a solid Democratic state, no serious Democrat even bothered to challenge him for re-election. Just because some pundits claimed that Jindal once walked stiffly to the podium to deliver a speech -- hardly a capital offense -- and because he does his work far from the dysfunction of Washington, he does not get the attention he should. But he will.

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