Independent's Eye by Joe Gandelman

Here's our modest annual list looking at 2011 — a list that might help guide us in 2012.

Best New National Scene Republican: Former Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman. Some GOPers never forgave him for having served as President Barack Obama's Ambassador to China, but he offered the kind of thoughtful conservative Republicanism that could have roped in independents. He would have had a better chance running 10 years ago.

Most Interesting Moderate Republican: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was a moderate Republican in his old incarnation. But you always suspected in those days that Romney didn't really mean it — that he was just saying what he needed to get elected and survive politically.

Jimmy Margulies / The Record (click to view more cartoons by Margulies)

Most Interesting Conservative Republican: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who is a conservative in his new incarnation." But you always suspect he doesn't really mean it — that he is just saying what he needs to get nominated.

Most Overexposed Liberal (if you don't include Rep. Anthony Weiner): Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who gets excruciatingly long segments on liberal talk radio and ideological cable, shows. With all of his airtime you think he was a Senator with enormous clout. Wrong. He's on the shows because he validates these shows' hosts', viewers' and listeners' viewpoints.

Worst Republican Moment: The Tea Party influenced House Republicans' refusal to pass the Payroll Tax Extension until the GOP establishment and Senate Republicans denounced them -- and polling showed Republicans taking a beating. This political Christmas gift for Obama added lingering imagery about Republicans that will hurt the party with independents.

Worst Democratic Moment: The Democrats' impotence in the debt ceiling debate and/or in any major political controversy pitting them against Mr. Super Pro Strategist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Karl Rove of the U.S. Senate.

Biggest Republican Rising Star: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Liberals may despise him, but he has a refreshing authenticity and comes across to many voters as an old-school center-right Republican who is in many ways —get ready, here comes the dirty word for some — moderate. Christie has a huge future (if he chooses to pursue it).

Biggest Democratic Party Rising star: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has a 68 percent approval rating in a new poll. When his moment comes to decide whether to run for President, he won't dither forever like his politically ill-fated father Mario.

Best Sopranos Wannabe: "Boardwalk Empire." Its shocking season finale made it a reason to subscribe to HBO. Set in a meticulously re-created prohibition era Atlantic City, this show is about as good as TV gets.

Beset Sopranos Replacement: "Breaking Bad". The AMC show with solid writing and top rate acting about a teacher turned drug dealer is today's Sopranos replacement. It's as good as TV EVER gets.

Best Cable Political Show for Moderates and Independents: MSNBC's Morning Joe, where Joe Scarborough and friends offer consistently thoughtful political talk that avoids screaming and name calling found elsewhere.

Biggest Career Shrinkages: Conservative Glenn Beck and liberal Keith Olbermann. Hey, guys, being off a major cable channel matters.

Most Interesting Republican: Herman Cain. The charismatic Godfather's Pizza CEO who skyrocketed and crashed , and was famous for groping for answers and accused of groping. His "999" tax plan became a comedian punch line.

Biggest Career Melt Down: Charlie Sheen "Losing!" Wait, he got a new TV sitcom. "Winning!"

Most Gratifying News Story: The end of Osama bin Laden. A moment of national justice and retribution.

Best Healthy Restaurants: Souplantion also known as "Sweet Tomatoes" in some states, the best salad-soup buffet chain around where everything is freshly made, healthy and delicious. In Evansville, Indiana I stopped at the new small Salad World chain, a different concept (not a buffet) but equally superb — with delicious custom salads and the world's best vegetarian chili.

Best Pizza: No competition here. Pepe's Pizzeria in New Haven, CT.


Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. 

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN's John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at