Let's get the partisan stuff out of the way: Sarah Palin is shrewd, stylish and skilled. No, she's turbo-dumb and majestically uninformed. Wait, she's a media visionary blessed with an innate ability to frame the day's pressing issues in a way that both Joe the Plumber and Alec the Baldwin can comprehend. No, she's a menace who diminishes the intellectual standing of western civilization every time she opens her mouth. Actually, she embodies the American Dream, having worked her way up the socioeconomic and professional ladders by dint of hard work. No, she embodies the American Dream, in that she has achieved a level of fame incommensurate with her ability and appeal.
There. Now we can get around to a subject about which it might be possible to engage in respectful debate: Namely, whether the first appearance of Sarah Palin on Fox News Channel as a paid analyst heralds the arrival of a telegenic natural star or the coming of the sixth horsewoman of the media apocalypse (if the stars of "The View" were the first five).
I thought Palin did nicely. Say what you want about her syntactical shimmies or tendency to lapse into campaigny monologues -- the camera digs her, which gives her an advantage over some rigorous-thinking but grooming-resistant wonks of cable news. Also, unlike the myriad smart-because-they-say-they-are commentators fanned out across the dial, Palin has long since established her bona fides with her audience -- which, coincidentally, just happens to overlap with Fox News' viewership. In the parlance of a business of a distinctly different kind, Sarah Palin arrives at Fox as a made woman.
Over the course of her 14 on-air minutes, Palin wasn't asked to steer the conversation, work the telestrator or engage in parry-and-thrust with an ideological adversary like Nancy Pelosi. Instead, she was asked a rat-a-tat series of questions by Bill O'Reilly that basically boiled down to "What would you do?" -- about President Obama's sputtering poll numbers, about Sen. Reid's poor choice of language and about Iran. She answered them well enough, even if she insisted on pounding the "America doesn't care about that kind of [media] crap" drum as if being paid by the beat.
Palin had clearly been tipped in advance to O'Reilly's lines of interrogation, but this hardly makes her unique in the cable-news world; It's not like David Gergen shows up at CNN unsure whether he'll be asked about spearfishing or corruption in the Bersculoni administration.
Within the context of her limited initial role, Palin exceeded expectations. She commanded my attention. That's plenty.
If I have a concern about Palin the Pundit, it's this: You can only glean so much from her comments on the day's top political stories, because much of the time she is the story. She's been the story from the moment John McCain plucked her out of snowplow obscurity, and will stay the story as long as she remains the human flashpoint in the liberal/conservative yelp war.
Thus Palin can't really come across as anything other than another politician with an agenda, which, to be fair, was her job description until recently. Any time she answers a question, her response will be framed in the context of a possible 2012 presidential bid. Unless, and until this changes -- she's set to host periodic episodes of "Real American Life," a new Fox News Channel series that will explore real-life stories about overcoming adversity -- Palin's every utterance will feel like a rough draft of a stump speech. She'll be less an analyst than a news-maker, which could pose a headache before too long.
The bottom line? If you believe Sarah Palin is Ronald Reagan in sensible shoes, you're going to adore her every plain-talkin'-about-that-there-thing segment. If you regard Sarah Palin as a potential reason to apply for dual Canadian citizenship, you're going to be vexed by them. You like her or you don't, just as you like the way Fox News goes about its business or you don't. There's no middle ground here.