Did anything good come out of 2011? As 2011 comes to a close, it’s easy to look at the American political landscape and see nothing but smoking ruins. The economy is a disaster. Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on how to get it going or on how to reduce the deficit. Gridlock plagues government to an unprecedented degree. But things can’t be all bad, can they? Did anything good happen in politics in 2011? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

JOEL MATHIS

The best event of 2011? The gains made for gay civil rights.

Other good things happened — most notably, the Iraq war came to a close for the United States, ending a disastrously dumb conflict that never should have happened. But the end of a huge negative isn’t really a positive. So instead, it was in the arena of gay rights where two big events took place that could wonderfully alter the landscape for future generations.

First was repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The law itself passed late last year as Congress was closing out its session, but the law was implemented this year. Despite the hysterical cries of opposition from anti-gay forces, the military seems to have weathered the transition pretty well.

Second was the legalization, in New York State, of gay marriage. This was important for two reasons: New York is one of the most populated states, and the law was passed by an act of the state Legislature. There were no “judicial activists” imposing a “gay agenda” on the state; the representatives of the people did the people’s business.

Simply put: In 2011, gay Americans took a huge step toward attaining full citizenship in this country.

There is much work to be done, and some of it may be done in 2012: There are court challenges both to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing those legal marriages in New York, and to California’s Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal there. And outside the courtroom, support for gay rights continues to spread among the citizenry.

There will always be opponents to gay equality. Time, however, is on the side of those who favor civil rights. In 2011, we found out we might not have to wait much longer.

BEN BOYCHUK

The best political news to come out of 2011 — arguably better than the Navy SEALS killing of Osama bin Laden — was the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Conservatives and Republicans might scratch their heads at that one.

What possibly could be said in favor of an outspokenly anti-capitalist protest movement characterized by incoherent and impossible demands; theft, vandalism and assault; mounds of garbage; more than 5,550 arrests in 97 cities (according to the useful Occupy Arrests.com); to say nothing of millions of dollars in lost business and millions of dollars more in overtime for police? The answer, of course, is clarity.

Occupy Wall Street, with its spin-off demonstrations and encampments in major cities around the country, shows where Americans stand on the most fundamental questions of freedom and equality.

To the extent Americans even know about Occupy Wall Street — believe it or not, the nation does not orbit around the comings and goings of leftist protesters in Lower Manhattan — a majority agree that taxpayers shouldn’t bail out irresponsible bankers and that the cozy relationship between big government and big business is bad for the country.

But Democratic politicians rushed to embrace the Occupy movement before they realized the breadth and depth of its radicalism. Opposing bailouts is one thing; total loan forgiveness, guaranteed living wages, single-payer health care and a panoply of other demands — “official” or not — is something else again.

Occupy Wall Street is the entitlement id on parade, a welfare statist’s fantasy. And so three months after the protests began in earnest, public opinion shifted decisively against them.

Most telling: According to a recent Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans asked said “big government” poses a greater threat to the country than “big business” or “big labor.” That’s up from 53 percent in 2008 and 55 percent in 2009.

Big government and big business are indeed too intimate. But relatively few Americans are buying what the occupiers are selling.

Amid all the gloom and doom, that’s very good news.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis are moderators of the website, RedBlueAmerica.com, an initiative of the E.W. Scripps Co. Boychuk ([email protected]) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and represents the Red (conservative) side. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) is a writer and blogger in Philadelphia and represents the Blue (liberal) point of view. This column is distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.