The gifts have been opened, the menorah has been put away, and the tree is starting to look a little parched. These are all clues that it’s time to engage in the media’s favorite New Year’s Tradition: The Top Ten List.This year, we’ve got one, too. MOMocrats Cynematic and Karoli joined me on yesterday’s MOMochat podcast to talk about our picks for Top Political Stories of 2011. And since we only get one hour for each week’s program (and because we tend to digress, which cuts into our allotted time), I asked the group to come up with a list of FIVE. This could have added up to a huge list of 15 big news stories (because it was that kind of year), but fortunately, we had some overlap, which resulted in a MOMocrats list of Top ELEVEN Political News Stories of 2011:

11. The Gabby Giffords shooting and her miraculous survival and rehabilitation.

Years of nasty characterizations by some right-wing loudmouths of Democrats and liberals as the enemy of freedom took its toll on January 8, when a gunman shot 20 citizens attending the Congresswoman’s outreach meeting at a local supermarket. Six people died in the assassination attempt, but Giffords survived — despite the fact that Jared Loughner shot her in the head at point-blank range.

10. The Arab Spring

On December 17, 2010 a Tunisian fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest a government that severely restricted its citizens’ freedoms. That act of desperation lit a fire that spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, toppling regimes and setting geo-politics on its ear — and it isn’t over yet.

9. Wisconsin

It began when the Tea Party governors and legislatures were swept into office on promises of fixing the economy — and then went right to work enacting a radical right-wing agenda. Governor Scott Walker and his supporters enacted a law (without votes from boycotting Senate Democrats) that stripped public sector unions of their right to negotiate their contract. The state Capitol in Madison became the site of daily protests, growing to as many as 100,000 in February. This unpopular law led to an unheard of recall of six state Senators, with two Republican seats falling to Democrats. Walker himself faces a recall election in 2012.

8. The Climate Crisis

As Cynematic says, this has “fallen off everyone’s radar because the majority now sees it as a ‘natural’ occurrence and no longer man-made, despite an increase in the rate of global warming and scientific evidence that only consolidates the case for doing whatever we can to halt global warming.”

7. Iraq War Drawdown

President Obama promised an end to this war, and he made good on it last week (although to be fair, the date of US withdrawal was agreed upon by President Bush and the Iraqis had no desire to delay it). However it happened, we are happy to see our veterans return home — and are saddened that many of them are being called back up to go to Afghanistan. Hoping that reports of a breakthrough in talks with the Taliban indicate an end to involvement there, too.

6. End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell 

And you know what? The sky hasn’t fallen.

5. The Republican Party’s Struggle to Find a Viable Candidate to Face President Obama

Or as Cynematic puts it: “The GOP presidential candidate clown car/debates as reality show.”

4.  Osama bin Laden’s death

President Bush vowed to get him dead or alive — then seemed to lose interest after he lost the man in Tora Bora. President Obama quietly made getting bin Laden a priority, and thanks to the heroics of our intelligence operatives  and Navy Seal Team Six (who made the dramatic raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan), justice was finally served to the bankroller of the 9/11 attacks.

3. War on Women

We got our first inkling back in February, when Joanne Bamberger noted that the House GOP had dropped their focus on the deficit to further restrict abortion funding with a bill titled “The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would have required women who needed Medicaid funds for an abortion to prove that they had been “forcibly” raped. That bill was defeated, but within weeks, it was apparent that bill was just the opening salvo in an orchestrated assault om women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. Earlier this week,  reported that the number of anti-abortion bills introduced in statehouses throughout the country was just short of 1,000.

Back in May, we hosted EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock on our MOMochat podcast, who prescribed the antidote to this problem: Elect Pro-Choice Democratic Women. This is something we will be working towards together in 2012.

2. The Endless Brinksmanship in Congress

In 2009, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate reacted to Barack Obama’s election by vowing to do whatever it took to ensure his would be a one-term Presidency (and if that meant tanking the economy, so be it). The stand-off between the two parties intensified with the arrival of the House Freshman class of 2010, with a large Tea Party faction that equates “compromise” with “failure.” The result has been a series of budgetary stalemates that have threatened to shut the government down EIGHT TIMES in 2011.

“The GOP played games of chicken with America’s credit rating,” says Cynematic, citing “hostage-taking” over raising the debt ceiling, continued game-playing over extending the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance.

But, as Karoli points out, the real story here is “President Obama’s success despite Republican obstruction.”

1. Occupy Wall Street

It’s only fitting that the year ended with a movement that was in part, inspired by the non-violent protests of the Arab Spring. Occupy Wall Street captured the imagination of millions by illustrating how the nation’s wealth is overwhelmingly held by just 1% of the population. “We Are the 99%” became the rallying cry for a wide swath of Americans, who demonstrated by camping out in parks and other public spaces throughout the country. And a year that started out with the media focused on Tea Party loudmouths complaining about government spending finished up with sober reports on income disparity and the disappearance of the middle class. The Occupy movement managed an incredible feat in the age of media consolidation: They changed the conversation. And for that, we’re grateful.

You’ve seen our list of Top Political Stories of 2011. What are yours? Join the conversation here. And be sure to download the MOMocrats MOMochat Year-End Podcast.