Kathryn Lopez

There is something to that Sheen quote. Not from Charlie but the late bishop, a revered preacher who hosted one of the first prime-time television shows; someone who understood human communications. It's why all those men e-mailed me on then-governor Palin's first big night out on the national stage. It's why she drives the left wild, and has provided a source of fundraising and programming for nothing less than the Democratic National Committee. She's at the convergence of politics and culture. Her mere presence -- of her and her family -- brings some of our most contentious issues to the fore. They are our most contentious because they're the most personal. They are at the heart of who we are as individuals and a culture.

I thought of the unceasing reactions to Palin as I sat with two generations of anti-feminists at a recent book-launch event for "The Flipside of Feminism," written by Phyllis Schlafly, that brave lone warrior against the so-called Equal Rights Amendment, and her niece, Suzanne Venker. Schlafly is an unapologetic fan of Palin -- much more so than Venker -- because she knows what a brave, outspoken political woman faces. She's been there.

You don't have to want Palin to be president to acknowledge that the frenzy around her may have more to do with us than her.

On multiple fronts, the former governor of Alaska is actually much more complicated than most of the debates about her even begin to capture. She's that pro-life mom, a poster gal for whom the Susan B. Anthony List, dedicated to electing pro-life women, was waiting. But she's also been known to get her inner Gloria Steinem on -- which is ironic given Steinem stands among those who would excommunicate her from her gender if she could. Born and raised in a culture where girls were educated as if they were an oppressed class in need of empowerment, often at the expense of boys, she's representative of a value system that is increasingly coming to grips with the fact that the sexual revolution messed with some very fundamental things.

I do think that when all is said and done in 2012, the candidate who finds his or her name on the top of the Republican ticket is going to be someone who doesn't evoke the passions of a wounded culture in quite the same way. But I also think denying that Sarah Palin, flaws and all, already holds a positive place in our history is akin to believing that Charlie Sheen is actually "winning."

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.