As Republicans, Democrats and journalists discuss the meaning of this yearís midterm elections, itís become clear to me that many of questions they ponder present false choices that obscure the lessons of Nov. 2. Here are some of them:
Question No. 1: Were the 2010 midterms ďaboutĒ jobs and the economy, or about the Democratic agenda of health care reform, cap-and-trade and stimulus spending?
Observers often feel forced to pick one answer or the other, when, in fact, the election was about both, but to different groups.
For conservatives and Republicans, the election was primarily about the Democratic agenda.
It really wouldnít have mattered to most Republicans and all conservatives whether the economy was recovering. They were irate about Democratic spending, angry about the health care mandate, horrified at how cap-and-trade would affect many of the nationís communities and convinced that President Barack Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were committed to a larger government, higher taxes and more spending.
Thatís why conservative Republican voters were so energized on Election Day. Issues, ideology and the direction chosen by Democratic leaders drove Republicans to the polls.
But for Independent voters, who swung from strongly backing Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections to strongly supporting Republicans earlier this month, the midterms were much more about jobs, the economy and change.
Swing voters and Independents were motivated more by worry, dissatisfaction, fear and anxiety than by anger at the presidentís agenda and the Democratic Congressís legislative outputs. They were worried that the country was headed ďoff on the wrong track,Ē not that the health care mandate violates the Constitution.
Question No. 2: Was the election ďaboutĒ Obama or Pelosi?
It was about both, of course.
Midterm elections are always referenda on sitting presidents, and in this case Obamaís ability to point the nation in the right direction. As the leader of the country and the leader of his political party, the president surely was the focal point of the election.
But Pelosi, the driving force behind the Democratsí climate change bill and cap-and-trade proposal, had strong name identification, horrible ďfavorableĒ ratings and an image as an out-of-control liberal.
GOP strategists used both Pelosi and Obama in dozens of campaigns, including in campaign ads, and there is little doubt Pelosi was effective in driving up Republicansí blood pressure ó and in energizing them on Election Day.
Question No. 3: Did the tea party help or hurt the GOP during this yearís elections?
Tea party activists surely helped create an enthusiasm for the Republican Party, and their antics during the August 2009 recess and throughout 2010 put Democrats on the defensive.
But itís also unquestionably true that when tea party candidates won Republican Senate nominations (and some Congressional nominations), they were considerable burdens on the GOP, even costing Republicans seats the party was almost certain to win with more mainstream candidates.
Rep. Mike Castle surely would have won the Delaware Senate race had he been nominated, and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton almost certainly would have defeated appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) in the Senate contest in Colorado if she had been nominated by her party.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.