12/31/2011 10:54 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2012

The Top 5 Democratic Victories of 2011

Liberals are hard on the Democratic Party. This is a fact. The criticism may be correct, and it may be well-deserved (count how many Democrats voted for unconstitutional detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act), but there's no denying the fact that the Democratic Party has to deal with much more discontent among its ideological base than the Republicans do. As a holiday gift to the party that, while not perfect, does an awful lot of good things for America, let's look back and appreciate the five biggest democratic victories of 2011.

5. New York ♥s Marriage Equality
Gay marriage on the national front is considerably behind the opinion curve; despite surveys increasingly showing majority support for marriage equality, we only just managed to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" last year -- and even that decision is still attacked by your occasional right-wing dingbat. On the state front, however, victories are slowly but surely accumulating. The most recent, and one of the most heralded, was the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York State, the product of years of Democratic wrangling, an insistent Democratic governor, and yes, a few courageous Republican state senators who were persuaded to vote their conscience. For New York Democrats and the LGBT community, this victory was especially gratifying as it followed a defeat of marriage equality in 2009 -- and it came on Pride Weekend.

4. The State of the GOP
OK, so maybe the Democrats can't take too much credit for the currently laughably incoherent state of the Republican Party, but it sure is fun to watch -- especially since we're so accustomed to our party being the disjointed one. Three days out from the Iowa caucuses, the GOP is no closer to coalescing around a nominee than it was when the horserace began this summer -- although the intervening months have given us Michele Bachmann's crazy vaccine claim, Newt Gingrich's endorsement by an adultery website, Ron Paul's white supremacist supporters, Herman Cain's Pokémon quotes, Mitt Romney's $10,000 bet, and just about everything Rick Perry has ever said. (I left Huntsman off the list, but then again, so has America.) Democrats don't yet know whether the endgame of the Republican contest will make for a good or bad November 2012, but in the meantime, it's amusing to watch the Republican establishment endorsing Romney while the base runs around propping up anyone but, and there are some indications that GOP discord may actually be helping President Obama's approval ratings.

3. Victory in Libya
Foreign policy is President Obama's forte -- whether he's dealing with Europe, Russia or the Middle East. He has displayed his proficiency before in negotiations, and this year showed that his finesse extends to military operations. Although the decision to be involved in Libya (and the dubious legal reasoning used to extend hostilities) divided many liberals, there's no denying that it was a smashing success. President Obama successfully supported Libyan rebels, simultaneously showing America's commitment to people fighting for human rights and democracy while enabling Libyans to take out a dictator who was a long-time enemy of the United States. Libya was both a PR win and a concrete foreign policy victory -- all without loss of American life.

2. Killing bin Laden
2011 was a bad year for bad guys. In May, Navy SEALs finally succeeded in finding and killing Osama bin Laden in a moment of national catharsis. In fact, 2011 saw the deaths of multiple top Al Qaeda operatives, each requiring President Obama to make difficult legal and strategic decisions, from authorizing the killing of a U.S. citizen to deciding what and how much to tell Pakistan about the raid on bin Laden's complex. The president navigated all these challenges successfully, preserving strategic relationships while crippling Al Qaeda -- and making it impossible for Republicans to call Democrats soft on terror ever again.

1. Ending the Iraq War
Getting all our troops out of Iraq and ending one of the worst foreign policy disasters in American history was a major campaign promise of President Obama's -- one on which he followed through in a big way. Finally, after more than eight years of pointless destruction, our soldiers are back home. The decision to end the Iraq War refocuses America's attention where it should have been in the first place: on nation-building at home rather than abroad. President Obama's decision is in the best interests of the American people he was elected to represent and is yet another example of his foreign policy prowess. The song of the season is John Lennon's "Happy Xmas" -- because war really is over, thanks to a Democratic president.