In February, the nation continued to reel from the tragic events in Tucson. But there were distractions. Justin Bieber came out against abortion, even in the cases of rape. Sarah Palin blamed high milk prices on first lady Michelle Obama’s call for women to breast-feed their babies. And Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) would lose his seat in the shortest sex scandal in Washington history by violating Rules of Life No. 234,232. The story about his shirtless trolling for sex partners on Craigslist broke in the early afternoon on Feb. 9. He resigned “effective immediately” before 6 p.m.

Americans were also riveted by what was happening overseas. Live pictures of the wave of democracy washing over Egypt and the Middle East would be among the things that would simultaneously fascinate and frustrate us in the second month of 2011.

(Chris Hondros/GETTY IMAGES)

The protests in Tahrir Square

The protests in Cairo that enchanted the world in January led to a crackdown in early February. Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak unleashed armed thugs on horseback and camels in Tahrir Square and across Egypt to thwart the throngs of pro-reform demonstrators. He resisted his ouster for as long as he could, but he could not drown out the roiling roar of freedom emanating from every part of the North African power. The people united brought about the end of a dictatorship.

The defense of marriage equality

February would mark the start of something big in the push for same-sex marriage. Barbara Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush, became a New Yorker for marriage equality as part of what would become a successful effort to legalize same-sex marriage in the Empire State. A similar push to allow gays to marry in Maryland would face opposition by African Americans. Unrelated, but still relevant, the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rep. John Lewis (D- Ga.) was an opportunity to highlight his impassioned floor speech against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. And President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder said with one clear voice that a law that denies married same-sex couples equal protection under the Constitution is not only wrong but also unconstitutional. This determination meant that the Obama administration would no longer defend DOMA in court.

And the noteworthy

Republicans on Capitol Hill and running for president splashed around in the birther pool while ignoring ample evidence to the contrary that Obama was born in the United States and is not a Muslim. Meanwhile, evidence started mounting that a run by Palin would not be as popular as she — or many pundits — thought.

After ignoring social issues in their quest to take over the House, some Republicans turned their full attention to them. Rep. Chris Smith (N.J.) moved to limit federal funding for abortion by drawing a distinction between rape and “forcible rape” without actually defining what the latter is.

And Jeremy Bernard would make history by becoming the first male and the first openly gay person to be named the White House social secretary by the president and first lady.