Sarah Palin's followers no doubt thought she gave a great speech at the National Tea Party Convention last night. Actually, it was pretty much cookie-cutter stuff, sprinkled with the requisite cheap shots at President Obama. If red meat is your thing, there was plenty. But as always with Palin, there was no substance, and the delivery was pretty close to fingernails clawing their way down a blackboard.
Mostly, she staked out the core political position of the Tea Party movement as the right-wing populism we've already recognized it as. But she repeated that the movement was about "the people," and indeed wrapped it up with an incoherent bit of babble featuring "the people."
There was the requisite nod to the ah, "revolutionary" component of the movement:
Palin: And I am a big supporter of this movement, I believe in this movement. Got lots of friends and family in the Lower 48 who attend these events and across the country, just knowing that this is the movement, and America is ready for another revolution, and you are a part of this.
Of course, the Tea Partiers like to insist that this is a non-violent revolution. But the way they keep packing guns around at public gathering as demonstrations of their constitutional rights, the rest of us aren't feeling all that assured.
Palin also made an interesting remark about Tea Party candidates taking out regular Republican candidates:
Palin: A lot of great common-sense conservative candidates -- they're gonna put it all on the line in 2010, and this year, there are gonna be some tough primaries. And I think that's good. Competition in these primaries is good, competition makes us work harder and be more efficient, and produce more. And I hope you'll get out there and work hard for the candidates who reflect your values, your priorities, because, despite what the pundits want you to think, contested primaries aren't civil war. They're democracy at work, and that's beautiful.
Yeah, we bet John McCain thinks it's just beautiful that he's facing a tough primary challenge from Tea Party favorite J.D. Hayworth this year. Palin later told the audience how proud she was to run with McCain on his ticket, but she seemed to be encouraging candidates like Hayworth. Sounds like some serious cognitive dissonance going on there.
Mostly, Palin spent a lot of time slagging Obama:
Palin: This is about the people, and it's bigger than any king or queen of a Tea Party. And it's a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.
Palin also ranked on at length about Obama's supposed weakness in the "war on terrorism," particularly in the case of the Underwear Bomber, who she believes should not have been allowed to "lawyer up." These attacks brought her some of her longest applause. Palin, like a lot of right wingers, seems to believe that the Constitution applies only to American citizens -- even though the Constitution itself is quite clear that it applies to anyone under U.S. jurisdiction.
And then they tell us that they're all about preserving constitutional values. Right.
Of course, the whole line of argument on the Underwear Bomber was really just an excuse to deliver cute lines slagging Obama:
Palin: Treating this like a mere law-enforcement matter places our country at grave risk. Because that's not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this -- 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!
There was also the requisite hypocrisy:
Palin: Today, in the words of Congressman Paul Ryan, the $700 billion TARP has morphed into "crony capitalism at its worst," and it's becoming a slush fund for the Treasury Department favorite big players, just as we had been warned about.
This isn't the first time Palin has pretended she didn't support the bailouts in 2008, when she was running for vice president. But she in fact did.
Also noteworthy: Palin applauded Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak for screwing up health-care reform. Sounds about right. Way to go, Bart. Hope you're proud.
Palin wrapped up by defending the movement from critics (like us) who paint it as extremist. Why, Sarah can personally vouch that everyone she met in the movement is just folks.
And that gave her the launching pad for her populist wrapup:
Palin: This movement is about the people. Who can argue, a movement that is about the people and for the people -- remember, all political power is inherent in the people, and government is supposed to be working for the people. That is what this movement is about!
Palin may be right that "this isn't about parties," but there's no doubt that it is about ideology -- right-wing conservative ideology. And in its populist guise, it isn't fooling anyone.