In Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan's birthday.
Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the "gaffe of the night"?
Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven't changed a bit.
Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites - including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we're safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.
Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense - he didn't - but because he sounded tough saying things like, "It's unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror." (Why?)
Look, debates involving 10 people are, inevitably, short on extended discussion. But news organizations should fight the shallowness of the format by providing the facts - not embrace it by reporting on a presidential race as if it were a high-school popularity contest.
For if there's one thing I hope we've learned from the calamity of the last six and a half years, it's that it matters who becomes president - and that listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush's tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.
And I don't know if this country can survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership.
I think this country can survive anything, but if you let a pile of shit get too big, it takes a heap more shovelin'.