I agree. I think Panda trumps everything as you say.
Google wants to only show sites with quality content. Links are too easily gamed so I think their role in ranking is diminishing. Google is trying to remove the game and get us all back to scrutinising our sites and how people use them to improve the experience, rather than wasting time studying the algo, building links, etc.
Be nice wouldn't it if we didn't have to play these stupid SEO games any more. There's a new business in town......User Metric Optimisation (UMO). This is the most productive use of anyone's time these days I think. Links are dead or dying. Don't waste your time or money on them.
I'm realising more and more that a good user experience is THE most important thing (as determined by user metrics) to get your site ranked. It levels the playing field. Why waste time building links when you could be working on improving the user experience of your website.