THE 1986 election has come and gone, without producing any sharp ideological turns, and without offering any clear directional signs to the future. The voters appeared not to be bothered by any overriding national or international issues.
Ronald Reagan came and went in a number of crucial states and the voters cheered him enthusiastically and then voted the way they had planned to.
Though Americans in certain parts of the country are facing difficult times, many more are doing pretty well. They therefore concentrated on local issues and the character and image of the local contestants.
A lot of voters were confused by the complexity of some of the local ballot questions.
And as for the image of the people they were voting for, most voters had to make up their minds without ever seeing the candidates in person. They did, however, watch a lot of political advertising on television, much of it negative and sleazy. And now, if you listen carefully, you can hear the folks who make and air television commercials chuckling all the way to the bank.
The Republicans got thumped in the Senate, but did not fare too badly elsewhere. Much of the next two years, until the next national election, looks like business pretty much as usual.
True, the Democrats now monopolize both the House and the Senate, but after six years in office, the Reagan administration's programs are pretty much in place and there are no heady new initiatives to be forced through Congress.
Of course, with Rhode Island's Claiborne Pell presiding over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Edward Kennedy or Joseph Biden chairing the Judiciary Committee, it is not going to be peaches and cream for the Reagan administration up on the Hill.
President Reagan can expect a lot more obstruction to his policies on Central America and the Strategic Defense Initiative, and he will find it a lot harder to get confirmation of his appointees to the federal bench.
Just how the administration will tailor its approach to the new Congress remains to be seen. Mr. Reagan has tried to etch for himself in history the image of a hard-line politician, but as governor in California and President in Washington, he in fact has been the master of ultimate compromise.
Similarly, his chief of staff, the swift-tempered Donald Regan, began his tenure in a feisty and confrontational mode with Congress, but has learned that honey is often more effective than vinegar.
Meanwhile the Democrats will be breaking in new leadership in the Senate and House, and that will mean a period of trial, adjustment, and possibly error.
Thus, although there is some drama to a Democratic-controlled Congress confronting a Republican White House, the nation is probably still safe, and will survive as well as it has in similar situations before.
And so, for political excitement, we look to 1988 and the run-up to it.
A couple of contenders look more promising as a result of this week's election. In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis is saying the properly trite things following his romp to victory. Yes, he considers the governorship of Massachusetts the job he is committed to and the one he loves. But when pressed, well no, he won't rule out the possibility of ``contributing'' on the national scene. Mr. Dukakis has made his state an economic showplace and has been helped in his political ambition by a Massachusetts Republican Party whose efforts make Laurel and Hardy look like serious people by comparison.
A strong win by New York's Gov. Mario Cuomo thrusts him closer to national attention by the Democrats, and Senator Biden may profit from greater exposure in the new, Democratic-controlled Senate.
Vice-President Bush still leads for the Republicans in the presidential stakes, and Sen. Gary Hart for the Democrats. But the 1986 elections have made no more certain the chances of either one in 1988.