Initially, the emails that I received about last week's ABC News debate and my pointed criticism of it were running about 90 percent favorable -- that changed slightly as my words bounced across conservative talk radio and the editorial page of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal.The naysayers said those who complained were merely mad that Obama was asked "tough questions," and as for issues like the health care or educaton, well, there's no difference and they've been asked about those a million times.

Really? It seems to me there's a lot of issues that have never been asked, not even in 21 debates. This week, the New York Times raised a significant question that I guarantee you will never, ever become part of the 2008 presidential campaign, even though it speaks to the essence of life in America today:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.
Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.
Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

It's a slam dunk to criticize the media for not making this issue -- which has become a fact of life and not even a topic of political discussion in America -- part of the campaign, but to be honest the problem runs deeper than that. It's a problem with a political candidates, in both parties, and our entire system.

Do you think a question about reducing prison populations would get a useful answer from any of the three remaining candidates? Based on how they're dealing with other issues, the only acceptible political answer is avoid suggesting you might want to release anybody from prison -- EVER. Because no matter what the political question might be in 2008, the correct answer is always going to be the least-nuanced, or most hard-core, the one that requires the least thought and the least sacrifice.

Taxes? Cut 'em.

High gas prices, caused in part by rising demand? A gas tax holiday (keeping demand high).

Iran? "Obliterate" them.

People who say controversial things? Reject and denounce them.

Flag pins? Wear 'em...or pay the penalty.

That's what politics is these days -- who can obiliterate, reject and denounce the most, the fastest, the harshest, whether it's taxes, foreign nations, or those who violate the law. Gail Collins was right on the money with this about the two Dems:

If you want to worry about something, worry about the way both of them have been pandering themselves over the edge. There was the dreaded read-my-lips, no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge during the Pennsylvania debate. Then Hillary tried to demonstrate her toughness by announcing she would "obliterate" Iran if it messed with Israel. And when it comes to political piñatas, we'll always have Nafta. They both went into the tank on agricultural issues back in Iowa, so heaven knows what they're saving for Indiana. Mandatory use of corn in highway paving materials?

I do think why one of the few things in this race that received mostly praise was Obama's Philadelphia speech on race, because it actually addressed painful subjects, and because it actually chose nuance over obliteration. But we make look back on that as an oddity, a one-off.

Because everywhere else, honesty and nunance have already been obliterated.