With speech before tea party activists, Palin once again steps on political stage

A look back to February, when 600 delegates from the National Tea Party convened in Nashville.
By Philip Rucker and Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 7, 2010

NASHVILLE -- Sarah Palin chose a gathering of tea party activists on Saturday as the backdrop for her first major political speech since accepting the Republican Party's nomination for vice president 18 months ago. With her remarks, greeted with wild enthusiasm here and carried live by all three major cable news networks, Palin moved firmly to reestablish herself as a politician capable of national office.

She bounded onstage to cries of "run, Sarah, run" and then delivered a stinging rebuke of President Obama while striking a populist, even folksy tone. Serving up fiery rhetoric with a broad smile, she attacked the administration's policies on the economy and on national security, assailing in particular the decision to read Miranda rights to the man accused of attempting to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.

"Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at great risk because that's not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this," Palin said to thunderous applause. "They know we're at war, and to win that war we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern."

In a 40-minute speech at the inaugural National Tea Party Convention, she embraced the grass-roots movement of disaffected conservatives, calling it "ours," and said that "America is ready for another revolution." She called the country's national debt a "generational theft," adding that "many of us have had enough."

She pointed to GOP victories in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts as evidence of voter unrest, and she said in response to a question that the Republican Party "would be really smart to try to absorb" as much of the tea party movement as possible.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said afterward that, as Obama administration officials have noted, the George W. Bush administration also prosecuted terrorism suspects in criminal court. "No one should take national security advice seriously from a person who told the world in 2008 that her qualifications in this area were that she could see Russia from her home state," he said.

During a brief question-and-answer session, when asked about "two words that scare liberals: President Palin," she said nothing, just smiled and looked offstage, where her daughter, Piper, 8, was watching.

Since Palin resigned as governor in July, her public profile has seemed only to grow. She has made news with regular updates to her 1.3 million "fans" on Facebook, toured the country signing her bestselling book, "Going Rogue," and last month signed on as a Fox News commentator; the network is building a fully equipped studio in her Alaska home.

"If Sarah Palin gives a weather report, it's all over the place," said Palin confidant John Coale, a Democrat and a Washington lawyer, who is married to Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren.

For Palin, who has deflected questions about whether she plans to seek the presidency in 2012, the address in Nashville represented a new high-water mark in visibility. She will also headline upcoming tea party rallies in Searchlight, Nev., and Boston.

By delivering a paid keynote address at a convention other politicians had avoided because of allegations of profiteering, Palin displayed one of the traits that has electrified her anti-establishment followers: a talent for persistently and defiantly flouting the conventional rules of politics.

Palin swooped into Opryland to address tea party activists at a coming-of-age moment for their movement. Tea parties began with town hall rage and street protests last year, and now the activists are trying, through their first working convention, to become more "mature" and channel their grass-roots efforts to political gains.

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