In a speech that was at times folksy, funny and fierce, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said the Tea Party movement is the "future of politics in America," and it's got Democrats "running scared."
Delivering the keynote address at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention, Palin brought the audience to its feet several times, taunting the Obama administration, mocking its supporters and warning Democrats that their agenda is "out of touch, out of date, and if Scott Brown is any indication, it's running out of time."
Referring to the Republican who won the lateTed Kennedy's Senate seat in the Bay State, Palin told activists, "If there's hope in Massachusetts, there's hope everywhere."
Palin seemed very much in her element addressing the crowd of 1,100 conservative activists, who had each paid several hundred dollars to see the former governor deliver her most-anticipated speech since the 2008 campaign. Tickets for the banquet alone sold for $349, while those who attended the full three-day convention, including a seat at the dinner, paid $549.
"I caution against allowing this movement to be defined by any one leader or politician," Palin said, calling the conservative populist Tea Party "bigger than any king or queen."
"And it's a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter," Palin said, delivering her first of many swipes at President Obama and his administration.
Taunting those who voted for the Democratic ticket in 2008, Palin asked to laughs, "How is that 'hope-y, change-y stuff workin' out for ya'?" While criticizing the administration for its record of transparency on stimulus spending, and accusing Democrats of committing "generational theft" amid a sharp rise in deficit spending, Palin saved her strongest rhetorical fire for the president's handling of terrorism.
"We can't spin our way out of this threat," Palin said, referring to Obama's reticence to call the effort against al Qaeda a "war on terror."
"To win that war," Palin said, "we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lecturn." The line brought her another standing ovation, and some of the biggest applause of the night.
In what was perhaps a subtle reference to her own political ambitions, Palin said one doesn't need "an office or a title to make a difference."
But the crowd responded throughout the speech with the chant: "Run, Sarah, Run!"
Palin targeted the media and political establishment in the speech as well, accusing the "elitists" of trying to "paint us as ideologically extreme."
The Tea Party movement, Palin argued, is "about the people. Who can argue with a movement that is about the people and for the people?"
Following her remarks, Palin took questions submitted in advance to the Web site of Tea Party Nation, the group that organized the event at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.
Addressing the notion that the Tea Party should become the nation's third major political party, Palin instead said, "The Republican Party would be really smart to absorb as much of the Tea Party as possible."
Asked what change conservatives should bring to Washington if they controlled Congress and the White House again, Palin urged a return to fiscal restraint, an expansion of domestic oil exploration, and for leaders to not be "afraid to kind of go back to some of our roots as a God-fearing nation."