The gathering in Nashville this weekend may have been the institutional birth of a major new American political force, or maybe it was just a lot of sound and fury - signifying not so much. But everyone agrees, Sarah Palin is its default leader.
Some analysts say it won’t be long before the Tea Party movement folds back into the more awkward corners of the Republican Party’s right wing, as so many extra-political party protests have done over the past 200 years in America. (Protest movements most often have been reabsorbed into one or the other of the country’s two major parties.)
Whatever happens to it in the future, this past week saw more than 1,000 political activists – some very new to the politics business, some veterans of previous (mostly) Republican political campaigns – meet at the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Although a few speakers continued with the kind of discourse that got them labelled last year as an angry mob (such as their shrill charge that Jesus’ birth was better documented than President Barack Obama’s) most attendees seemed to take the approach that they really were a new political force with which to be reckoned. And, predictably, they exploded with enthusiasm when Sarah Palin came on stage to fire up their Tea Party gathering.
Veteran political activist, Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, the social networking website sponsoring this convention, explained the new approach: “The movement is maturing. The rallies were good for last year, because that’s what we could do last year. This year we have to change things. We have got to win.”
Tea Party activists now say their goal (almost certainly unobtainable by real-world political calculations) is to achieve a deeply conservative Congress in 2010 and a conservative president in 2012. And so, they have followed through on their visionary goal with a very old-style, standard political action committee to raise and then direct $10 million of campaign contributions to conservative challengers. They will do this even as they channel their inchoate anger with the political system into regular electioneering – networking, candidate recruitment, Internet and social media use and voter mobilisation. Political commentators note how much the Tea Party activists and their anger about government bailouts and healthcare legislation unconsciously seems to resemble the old 1960s radicals in their visceral distrust of those in power.
In spite of the enthusiasm of some of the organisers, the actual convention in Nashville kept losing sponsors and participants until its opening because of accusations from other Tea Party groups that the Tea Party Nation convention was profiteering off the enthusiasm of attendees – with its cost of $549 to come for the entire event or $200 less if someone just wanted to hear Sarah Palin’s speech. The organisers say they invited both the Democratic and Republican national committee chairmen to address the gathering and take questions, but neither agreed to participate. In fact, many Tea Partiers think Republicans are equally complicit with Democrats in expanding government, and it is extremely unlikely either would have had a comfortable night of it.
And then after all the mundane symposia and panel discussions, Sarah Palin swept in to the room to the roar of, “Run Sarah, Run!” In her speech, she called Barack Obama’s 2011 budget “immoral” and said it would raise the US debt unconscionably, burdening future generations with its costs. She told the crowd the US is “drowning in national debt, and many of us have had enough … I am a big supporter of this movement. America is ready for another revolution and you are part of this.”
WATCH: Sarah Palin’s speech at The Tea Party Convention
AND, you can watch her read her crib notes:
If the cheating moment was too fleeting in the CNN video, see it more emphasised here:
(You can read the full story about Sarah Palin’s Tea Party crib notes at Huffington Post.)
Turning her attention to foreign policy, an area where she has not been known as an expert, Palin berated the Obama administration, saying “To win that war [on terrorism], we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law.” She went on to say, “We need a foreign policy that distinguishes America’s friends from her enemies, and recognises the true nature of the threats that we face.” This is Tea Party (or Republican) code for Obama is weak on terrorism and other bad things. Palin then got her crowd thoroughly riled up with, “America is ready for another revolution and you are part of this”.
Her speech is being watched as a signal of her planned political next steps – as well as the extent to which the convention would embrace her as its natural leader. Tactically, Palin is aligning herself with the Tea Party movement even as she cautioned the delegates not to let the movement be defined by any one leader.
Analysts say that by choosing the Tea Party convention and the media coverage it garnered, Sarah Palin firmly re-established herself as a politician capable of running for national office. In her stinging rebuke of Obama, she found a populist, even “just-folks” tone that has apparently connected with her target audience. Her rhetoric came with a big toothy smile, even as she attacked the Obama administration’s policies on the economy and national security, and, in particular, assailing the decision to read Miranda rights [i.e., the accused has the right to an attorney] to the man accused of attempting to bomb a US airliner on Christmas Day.
Palin drew attention to recent Republican victories in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts as proof of voter anger and said the Republican Party “would be really smart to try to absorb” as much of the Tea Party movement as possible – a harbinger of likely Republican efforts to draw on Tea Party enthusiasm for their candidates in the mid-term election in 2010 and onward to the general election in 2012.
Democratic national committee spokesman, Brad Woodhouse, said afterwards that, “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”. There, now you have the embryonic Democratic response to Palin when/if she runs in 2012.
Nonetheless, in recent months, Palin has steadily built a network of more than 1.3 million fans on Facebook and toured the country, selling and signing her bestselling book, “Going Rogue”. In January, she became a Fox News commentator as well. Fox is now building a fully equipped TV studio in her Alaskan home for sustained use.
In the coming weeks, Palin will speak in Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, Nevada, to kick off the Tea Party Express III tour. Then in April, she’ll visit Boston for a “tea party” gathering there, celebrating the one-year anniversary of this raucous coalition that came to life only last spring.
By J. Brooks Spector
And just in case you missed it, here’s the enlarged photo of Sarah Palin’s hand with crib notes:
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