Sarah Palin drives me crazy. I don't know if I have ever been more conflicted over a political figure in my lifetime. I'd like to just lay out a few threads here and see if anybody else is on board with me.
On the one hand, I liked her when she first came on the scene as McCain's running mate. She added youth and energy to the ticket, gave old and lily-white McCain a little boost in the diversity arena (which, of course, made precious little difference in '08), and was the only non-senator of the bunch (the bunch meaning Obama, McCain, Biden, and even Clinton). I also liked the fact that her pro-life credentials, as evidenced by carrying Trig to term, were far less suspect than many pro-lifers.
It didn't bother me that she was savaged so badly by the media--I'm old enough to remember pretty much every republican in my lifetime being called either stupid (Reagan, Ford, Quayle, GWB) or evil (Nixon, Cheney). Even George Bush 41 got called a wimp, despite being the youngest fighter pilot shot down in the Pacific theater of WWII. This is an old one, and it stinks. Adlai Stevenson was the "egghead" candidate in 1952 and 56, even though he didn't hardly read, and Ike was the befuddled old grandpa-type, despite being the guy who planned D-Day and former president of Columbia University.
That said, just because I thought she was good for the #2 job (particularly considering the alternative) doesn't mean that she's my first choice to be leader of the free world. I think President Obama is a great object lesson in what you get when you ignore experience and significant accomplishments in order to vote for a candidate who makes you feel good for either rhetorical or demographic reasons.
But that's where it gets difficult. It seems like if you say what I just wrote, that puts you on the side of the people (both liberals and "elite" conservatives) who act like she's stupid. And I emphatically do not want to find myself on that side. Indeed, the thing I find the most attractive about Palin is the fact that she drives certain people so nuts. If "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," then she and I ought to be quite friendly. She antagonizes the group of "elitists" who rub me the most wrong.
Don't get me wrong. I teach elites. By some measures of elitism, I am one of the elites (National Merit Scholar, fancy private school, honors in college, graduate degree, career in academia). But the older I get, the less I value the opinions of people who have very high opinions of their own intellect (except in very specific areas in which they are experts--I'm not sure if it was Will Rogers or Mark Twain who said, "We're all ignorant, just on different subjects.") That doesn't mean that I value ignorance, nor that I am anti-intellectual. I'm anti-snobbery. Maybe pro-humility.
So, anyway, I've described myself ever since the election as not pro-Palin, but "anti-anti-Palin." However, it seems to me that defenses of her keep coming back to a circular logic. Pain supporters keep coming back to the fact that Biden is demonstrably dumb, and/or that she is at least as smart and/or qualified as Obama. Then the conversation invariably turns to how smart he is (or isn't) and how dumb she is (or isn't), and what constitutes "smart," and his missing college transcripts, and how common sense trumps book sense (or doesn't), or how neither Reagan nor Truman were geniuses while Carter and Nixon and Hoover were all brilliant.... AAARGH!
It seems to me that this is exactly the wrong direction to take. It is possible that she is absolutely as qualified as Obama to be president, because neither one of them is qualified! The same can be said of quite a few attractive candidates. I have a man-crush on Chris Christie in New Jersey. I'm developing quite a liking for Marco Rubio in Florida. They will both be great candidates for higher office... someday. But not two years from now. And I don't want my urge to defend Palin from what I feel are unfair attacks to lead all the way to having two unqualified presidents in a row.
All that said, on the matter of "can she win," the answer is tricky. I think if she runs, she has a better than 50-50 chance of being the nominee. In the same way we got McCain last time... unless a single "un-Palin" emerges early, she could wind up being the winner with a plurality based on the energy of her supporters. And when (if) she runs against Obama, if the economy still stinks, the whole "she can't be any worse than what we've got" equation is a possibility. However, I think whoever is the eventual GOP nominee benefits most if the 2012 election is a referendum on 4 years of Obama. If Palin is the nominee, she'll distract from that message.
One counter-argument is that it doesn't matter--whoever is the GOP nominee will get killed in the media, called stupid, evil, theocratic, heartless, etc. Possibly true. But my personal hope is that she won't run and will jockey to be a kingmaker. However, if she does wind up the nominee, of course I'll vote for her. Crud, I voted for BOB DOLE.