Sarah Palin is the best thing that’s happened lately to the right and the left, both at the same time. Much of the right pays her obeisance for mobilizing the troops and smart-alecking the left—which in turn loves her for splitting (so the left hopes) the right over her personality and track record.

The best way for a conservative to incur a black eye and a “country club Republican” label is to suggest that the mother of Bristol Palin and host of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” hasn’t it in her to lead the world’s—still, we hope—leading nation.

Not requiring a black eye at the moment, I decline to enter the contest. There’s a basic question to consider, all the same: Must we take it for granted that a best-selling author and all-purpose celeb has presidential aspirations we are obliged to sort through?

Might it not prove the case that she’s merely enjoying celebrity and the accompanying paychecks and royalties? The ex-governor’s nimble instincts don’t—yet—prove anything about her save that she’s quicker on her feet than Bristol; with a matchless eye for what was once called the main chance; not to mention, as Americans used to say, the nerve of an Army mule.

If we grant her celebrity status, that takes care of a lot of problems. We don’t have to psychoanalyze her constantly, as if she were Barack Obama. Conservatives can settle back and let her give speeches (which she does with enormous enthusiasm, if less-than-great pitch and intonation) for any candidate she wants to endorse. There’s really no Palin problem in this event. She’s a free lance, like the roving European knights whose military careers gave rise to the name. A free lance is fine.

What if she does, though, after all, want to be president? The Sarah conundrum rises at this point to a higher, more feverish pitch. I might circle around the matter cautiously and suggest that the pathway to the White House is less promising than it once was for inspirational speakers with great life stories. A principle reason for this is Barack H. Obama.

Once bitten, twice shy, is the folk adage. A couple of years ago, the public—especially that portion susceptible to the political love bug—fell hard for a barely known Illinois senator, one Mr. Obama. He was too cool for words—an opinion that everyone now is sure he shares. Two years later … well, why go into what everyone knows?

The parallels between Obama and Palin are marked: thin resumes, large talents for getting attention. Some of the backlash against Palin’s overnight fame actually resembles the sniping and disdain that has followed Obama since the election. Whereas once he could do no wrong, he now seems incapable—as the left sees it—of doing any right.

Palin comes on, politically, like the upperclassman a sorority pledge met late one night at the “Twilight” costume party: best abs ever and, oh, those discreet tattoos!—but will he still respect me in the morning?

There is no reason to suspect Palin of attempting a con job, saying what she says, in the way she says it, for mere personal aggrandizement. On the other hand, before we hand over the country to her, we need to take the lady’s measure in terms of character, intelligence and skills. We need to know her philosophy, her ideals—not just in glittering outline but instead in specifics. How would she save Medicare? How would she deal with Putin, Karzai, Chavez and Ahmadinejad? How would she like America to integrate newcomers into its national life? How would she have us protect unborn life?

Voters need not to guess at these things; they need clear understandings from candidate A or B, or P, as to what proposals they would advance.

President Palin? We can’t rule that out in the long run. But please not in 2012. There isn’t time for that—not a fourth of it, not a tenth. She needs to grow on us as our problems, our challenges, our opportunities grow on her.