Thank you for your contribution. I think you summed up the realities of the situation very well when you wrote, “if your writing is better than the other dude, you’ll probably have a better chance of getting a deal.” That’s exactly the point.
What doesn’t make sense to me is your comment, “A lot of people can’t even get their work in front of an agent or publisher.” How not? There are lists of agents all over the internet, in market guides such as The Writer’s Handbook, The Writers’ Market, and The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and publishers’ contact details are easily found in the covers of magazines and on their websites. Most state clearly if they’re open to submissions (and most are) and provide clear guidelines for writers wishing to submit work.
It’s easy to get work in front of agents and publishers. You need only to do a good job of research, follow the guidelines, and submit. No agent or publisher throws submissions into the shredder without looking at them first.
If your writing is good, your idea fresh and original, and your piece well-targeted to the publication to which you’re submitting, you have every chance of success, whoever you are. The real problem is that 90% of would-be writers just don’t understand that they need to do the background work first, write to market, and follow each individual publisher’s guidelines to the letter.
But, given that you do the work, it absolutely is a level playing field.