Sarah Palin speaks to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference,… (Cheryl Gerber / Getty Images )
Reporting from New Orleans — Arrogant. Radical. Socialistic.
A parade of Republican critics, led by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, assailed the Obama administration Friday, vowing to take control of Congress in November and reverse the president's accomplishments -- starting with his healthcare overhaul.
Addressing more than 3,000 GOP activists from across the country, Palin seized on President Obama's 2008 campaign slogan and gave it a twist: "When they say, 'Yes we can,' we stand up and say, 'Oh, no you don't!' "
The session was the first large Republican gathering since enactment of the president's sweeping healthcare plan -- which passed without a single GOP vote -- and speakers seemed to strive to one-up each other in voicing their anger and disgust.
"A socialistic time-bomb," said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.
"The definition of arrogance," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"Grotesque," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who opened the session Thursday night by calling Obama "the most radical president in American history." He said a Republican Congress can -- and should -- fight back by refusing to fund the program until a Republican president repeals the healthcare law in 2013.
The quadrennial meeting of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference has become a showcase for the party's White House prospects and other luminaries, though at this stage it is hard to discern one from the other. That includes Palin, the marquee speaker of the four-day event, whose presidential ambitions, if any, remain a mystery.
The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, who never mentioned her former running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, skewered Obama's foreign policy ("coddling enemies, alienating allies") and joined the rest of the speakers in piling criticism on his healthcare plan ("the mother of all unfunded mandates").
She devoted most of her 27-minute speech to an attack on Obama's proposal to expand oil drilling off the Atlantic and Alaskan coasts, as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Palin said the policy amounted to less than the president suggested, tying up energy reserves for years of pointless study.
"We don't need more studies, we need more action," she said, then brought the audience to its feet with a reprise of her own line from 2008: "Let's drill, baby, drill. Not stall, baby, stall."
Palin was characteristically chatty and sprinkled her remarks with barbed asides, once referring to the Environmental Protection Agency as the "Economic Punishment Agency." She walked offstage to chants of "Run, Sarah, run" from about a third of the crowd.
Polls have shown most Americans consider Palin unqualified for the presidency after her unsteady performance in 2008, and that has colored the judgment of even some like Debbie Bolton, 52. Bolton, clutching a strip of reindeer jerky Palin passed out to delegates and wearing a "Palin Power" button, said the former governor should pass on 2012 and look to run sometime in the future "since everybody's not convinced about her."
"She's young," Bolton said. "She's got time."