What Winston Churchill said about someone else's speech will do for the election we have just endured: "This pudding has no theme."
Let us begin in Massachusetts, birthplace of this year's vaunted electoral chic, anti-incumbency and voter anger.
The Bay State returned its entire congressional delegation and its junior Democratic senator, John F. Kerry, to office. It passed up the chance to vote for the angriest man in American politics, John R. Silber, a Democrat.
In the end, unexpectedly, it chose Republican William F. Weld, a calmly spoken blueblood. To add to the paradox, Weld favored an anti-tax measure known as Citizens Limit on Taxation, a rollback of taxes to their 1988 level. The voters, having voted for Weld, turned around and voted against a CLT referendum.
Elsewhere, voters returned all but 15 members of the House and one member of the Senate to their jobs. The message? "Don't classify us."
The one absolute rule that came out of this "why-did-they-bother?" election is that it is not safe, even in the 1990s, to be rude to women.
Silber was rude to just about everybody. People found it jolting, but put it down to his refreshing, invincible candor. He was surging in the polls, had won two debates -- admirable, Lincoln-Douglas-type encounters, by the way -- and seemed unstoppable, until the closing days, when voters decided he wasn't outspoken, but nasty.
His downfall was an at-home interview with Natalie Jacobson, a popular Boston television anchorwoman. She asked what his weaknesses were. He jumped down her throat. Later, he explained, Jacobson had violated a no-politics pledge. To Massachusetts voters, however, it was the last straw. The bumps and grinds of life with Silber would be too bruising for a state suffering from early recession.
In Texas, Clayton Williams, the Republican, was mean to his Democratic rival, Ann Richards. He refused to shake hands with her, called her a liar. He did other stupid things, too, like neglecting to familiarize himself with a referendum on the conduct of the office he sought and admitting that he paid no federal income tax in 1986.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat running for D.C. delegate to Congress, did not pay her District income tax for eight years. She took the position that her husband was responsible for their taxes, and that since she is a distinguished advocate of civil rights, it was tacky of people to raise the matter of her delinquency.
The voters agreed with her and gave her a victory with 62 percent.
Can we conclude anything about the advisability of being rude to a president of one's own party? In Vermont, it was a bad thing. Rep. Peter Smith, who lectured George Bush when the president came to help him in his campaign, lost his bid for reelection to socialist Bernard Sanders.
But next door in New Hampshire, it was acceptable. Rep. Robert C. Smith, who stayed in Washington to vote when Bush participated in a fund-raiser for him, won a Senate seat handily.
Is money everything in the politics of the '90s, as it was in the '80s?
Not in Minnesota, at least this year. Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz outspent his challenger, Paul Wellstone, by 7 to 1, but lost anyway.
But it could have made the critical difference in the heartbreaker in North Carolina, where backward-looking Republican Jesse Helms fought Democrat Harvey Gantt with three times the money at Gantt's disposal. Many bucks went into commercials, which brought home the sad truth that the race issue is not dead. Wrapping the question of reverse discrimination in the semi-respectable plain-brown paper of "quotas," Helms drove back the most attractive, composed, non-aggrieved black candidate probably ever on the national scene.
This display of contradictions and cross-currents was singularly unobliging in the way of giving us clues for 1992. Democrat Mario M. Cuomo of New York elicited a grudging 54 percent vote of confidence; in New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley almost lost. Were voters asking, "What have you done for us lately?"
One locality, implausibly, rendered its judgment with great purpose and finality in a landslide that wrote finis to the 12-year reign of Marion Barry, the most shameless man in American politics today. The District overwhelmingly elected as its mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon, a lawyer. It gave her 86 percent, so there would be no question about who was in charge. It swept aside Barry's bid to haunt her from the City Council. At last, the angry, anti-incumbency vote.