Politics may remain ""awash in the clichâ€šs of sports,"" but as political columnists Germond and Witcover examine yet another presidential campaign they find something ""more like combat than like games-playing,' where ""heretofore upstanding citizens are reduced to desperate opportunists doing whatever in the shaken judgment is required to stay in the fight."" The authors justify reviewing a ""campaign where the level of bickering was high"" on the grounds that the 1984 race ""embodied most of what is wrong today with the process"" of presidential selection. They cite a familiar culprit, television, claiming its influence expanded without ""a corresponding ability to convey nuance."" Because news directors ""couldn't resist the good 'visual,' "" reports of staged campaign events, particularly Reagan's, looked like paid commercials. Print reporters, meanwhile, ""seemed reluctant to defy the judgment of the networks."" And while reporters were willing to speculate at length on whether ""The Right Stuff"" would lift John Glenn's effort off the ""launching pad,"" or publicize the flood of straw polls and forums that ""had virtually nothing to do with the interests of any voters,"" few seemed interested in the hard work of exploring Mondale's use of funds channeled through delegate committees that ""not only skirted the spirit if not the letter of the law but also led to serious ethical and possibly legal offenses against the whole system."" What little substance the Democrats injected into the campaign, such as Mondale's admission that raising taxes was inevitable, didn't engage Reagan, who ""lent himself willingly. . .to convince his fellow Americans that their nation faced no problems that could not be solved with slogans about 'walking tall'."" Delivering ""the same tired lines over and over. . . as if he had never set eyes on them,"" he convinced voters that ""a vote for Mondale was an admission that they, too, were losers,"" and that ""being a loser is the ultimate sin in our society today."" Despite such depressing conclusions, political junkies will revel in the wealth of campaign minutia. A Glenn aide remembers his man saying, ""I don't see why America can't be like those styrofoam fingers at football""--the ones fans wave as they chant about being number one. Marie Cuomo is quoted as telling Mondale ""that he needed to show he could say no to somebody,"" only to have Mondale respond by saying no to him. We relive Alan Cranston dyeing his balding head orange, Roger Mudd trying to goad Gary Hart into performing his ""hilarious"" Ted Kennedy imitation for a primary election-night audience, and learn why insiders concluded that Mondale wouldn't pick a woman running mate--he bunted in staff-press softball games. One voter at a Reagan spectacle is quoted as saying: ""First the Olympics, now this. I'm just ODing on pride in America."" The authors, however, see ours as ""a society with an attention span roughly comparable to a four-year-old's."" One wonders whether these long-time observers of presidential races will bother to order a wake-up call for the next round of post-election analysis.