Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin derided President Obama, saying, "How's… (Ed Reinke / Associated Press )
Reporting from Nashville — Sarah Palin may have declined to brand herself the leader of the "tea party" movement on Saturday, but she delivered a speech likely to earn her the title anyway.
FOR THE RECORD:
Sarah Palin: In some editions of Sunday's Section A, an article about Sarah Palin's speech to the National Tea Party Convention quoted her as saying, "How's that hopey, changing stuff working out for you?" She said, "How's that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?" —
"This isn't about money; this isn't about a title," Palin told an adoring crowd at the National Tea Party Convention. "I will live, I will die for the people of America. Whatever I can do to help. This movement is the future of politics in America."
Palin's hourlong speech was at times earnest, taunting, folksy and emotional. She criticized President Obama's foreign policy as too conciliatory, attacked his economic stimulus package as wasteful, and choked up when mentioning her love for an America where "children with special needs are welcome in this world and embraced." Palin has a son with Down syndrome.
The former Alaska governor urged the tea party activists to remain leaderless and decentralized, saying the effort that arose as a protest movement last spring is "bigger than any king or queen of the tea party."
"Put your faith in ideas. I caution against allowing this movement to be defined by one leader or operation," she said. "This is about the people."
The 1,000 or so activists who gathered for her keynote address seemed eager to put their faith in Palin. Some waited outside the ballroom for more than two hours before the dinner speech.
Palin retained much of the folksy style that became her hallmark during the 2008 campaign. She mocked Vice President Joe Biden's promise to guard the stimulus dollars, and at one point asked, "How's that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?"
Palin did applaud Obama's decision to increase forces in Afghanistan, though she derided his efforts at diplomacy, singling out North Korea. "We must spend less time courting our adversaries and more time working with our allies," she said.
In recent months, Palin has positioned herself outside the Republican Party establishment that chose her as its vice presidential candidate in 2008. She passed on an invitation to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
Palin remained committed to the Nashville conference even after some tea party groups questioned its financing and accused the Tea Party Nation, which organized the event, of profiteering. A handful of sponsors pulled out of the event, citing the hefty price tag of $560 for a ticket.
Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) backed out over concerns that they might later run into trouble with the House Ethics Committee.
Tickets to see just the keynote address topped $300. The price kept some devoted fans from seeing Palin -- but it did not keep them from trying.
Merle Firestone got up at 4 a.m., left a note on the coffeepot for his wife and drove from Rainbow, Miss., to try to see the former governor, even though he could not afford the ticket. The 72-year-old retired small-business owner and bow-hunter said he particularly liked Palin's support for his sport. He said he had been following the tea party movement as he watched his friends and children struggle with the recession.
"I don't have any answers; I just want people to get back to work," he said, standing by as conventioneers went in and out of the hall in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. When Firestone tried to get in without a pass, he was turned away. But, he said, there were plenty of like-minded people to chat with in the hallways.
The roughly 600 people who attended the full convention were overwhelmingly white and older, and were largely from neighboring states. They seemed united in their opposition to the growth of government and their belief that Obama's policies represent a dangerous creep of socialism into American life. They also were united in plans to turn what began as a protest movement into a political force for conservative candidates in the midterm election.
Still, many resisted the suggestion that they would unite under leadership from Palin or any other figure.
"I don't think the tea party movement has a leader," said Charlene Miller of Cincinnati. "That's not what this is about. She embodies the spirit of the tea party movement."
That model -- a series of local groups linked online -- has led to some disagreements over direction.
Some of the criticism Saturday focused on convention organizer Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation.
Members of a group feuding with Phillips held a news conference outside the convention hall, at which they dismissed the event as lacking true local support.
Phillips, a Nashville attorney who has been active in local Republican politics, said he did not expect to make much money off the convention and that any profit "would probably go back into future events to further the cause." Another convention is planned for July, he said.
In a recent opinion piece in USA Today, Palin said she would put her speaker's fee -- which sources put at more than $100,000 -- back to "the cause."