The Sarah Palin Rorschach Test

It is an all encompassing endeavor for conservative pundits these days. No, not covering the election, but bashing or bolstering Sarah Palin.

She's a cancer on the Republican Party! No, she the future star! She's a know-nothing, anti-intellectual or she has a brilliant analytical mind. Take your pick.

There are, of course, observers who take a position somewhere in between. Some express concern about her qualifications, but remain optimistic about her future and recognize her progress as a candidate. Others think the GOP must move to the center and don't see her as the person to lead that mission. But the loudest voices are the most extreme in their opinions. As with many fights in the punditocracy, the strongest language is often directed at the opposing camp. And the voices are certainly loud.

It is hard at times to discern the defining characteristics of each camp. It's not inside vs. outside the Beltway. After all Fred Barnes is as "inside" as David Brooks, yet they are on opposite sides of the Palin war. Nor is it simply ideology. Heather Mac Donald, stalwart conservative on immigration and other topics, squared off against equally conservative Laura Ingraham recently on Palin. (The former was anti-Palin, the latter pro-Palin.)

One dividing line is religion. Religious conservatives have embraced her, while adamant secularists such as Christopher Hitchens consider her a despicable figure. But, again, this seems an imprecise line of demarcation. There are social conservatives in both camps and some of Palin's biggest boosters aren't social conservatives.

Sure, there's a strong suspicion that many in the anti-Palin camp are posturing to ingratiate themselves with the Washington cocktail set. (One defender of Palin recently said to me of Palin opponents: "They want to be above the respectability bar, not below it.") But I will accept for sake of argument that most advocates on both sides are sincere. And I'll ignore for a moment that a number of Palin skeptics may have another candidate already in mind for 2012. So what's the real difference between the sides?

I think it breaks down into "Players" and "Kibitzers."