Sarah Palin, the former GOP vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor,… (Kevork Djansezian, Getty…)
Reporting from Santa Barbara
As she launched a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birthday, Sarah Palin delivered a blistering critique of the expansion of government under President Obama's watch and called on like-minded Americans to fight for Reagan's principles of individual freedom and smaller government.
During a banquet at the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, Palin skewered Obama's recent State of the Union address. She suggested that his call to "win the future" through innovation and new investments in clean energy and other research was simply an attempt to increase government spending.
Not long after the November election where "the people said enough is enough," Palin said, "We were just told that no, that the era of big government — it's here to stay and you're gonna pay for it, whether you want to or not."
"They have all sorts of half-baked ideas of what to spend — I mean, invest — our hard-earned money on for their idea of national greatness. These investments include everything from solar shingles to fast train tracks," Palin said. "But as we struggle to merely service our unsustainable debt, the only thing this investment will get us is a bullet train to bankruptcy."
The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee also blasted the Obama administration's healthcare program and the stimulus program: "Clearly it didn't stimulate anything but a 'tea party,'" she said to laughter.
As she flirts with a run for president in 2012, Palin, along with other Republican contenders, has sought to tie herself to the deep affection and admiration within the party for the 40th president. Palin's remarks Friday at a supper gathering of about 200 people near the harbor in Santa Barbara launched a series of panels that will examine Reagan's accomplishments and his imprint on America's political landscape.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney will close the festivities with a speech on Saturday night and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to attend.
The two-day event is being hosted by the Young America's Foundation, a nonprofit group formed in the 1960s to foster conservative ideals among college students.
The group purchased Reagan's Western White House, the 680-acre Rancho del Cielo in the Santa Ynez Mountains, in the late 1990s to preserve it. The ranch served as Reagan's escape from Washington.
Palin's starting point for her remarks was an October 1964 address by Reagan, which he delivered at a Los Angeles campaign fundraiser on behalf of then-presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
The speech was widely viewed as a moment that helped launch Reagan's political career.
Two years after the speech, which became known as "A Time for Choosing," Reagan was elected governor of California.
Palin said many of Reagan's critiques of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society in that speech have resonance now.
She reprised a line from that speech in which Reagan said the issue of the 1964 election was "whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves."
Government today, she said, is "making it increasingly impossible for anyone but cronies to get ahead."
"We're told our economy is so complicated that only government can plan it for us," she said in a speech threaded with populist themes. "Though government created the problem, now government presents itself as the solution, trying to convince us that we can win the future by letting that little intellectual elite in a far distant capital win it for us.
"But President Reagan said you can't be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy, and that's who's left out in the cold today," she said. "Big labor, big finance, they have seats at the table, the little guy doesn't, but we're the ones left holding the tab. We're paying the bill."
Palin called on her audience to continue to press for cutting spending and the size of government — including entitlement reform.
"We need to stop spending and cut government back down to size as we teach our children in our homes and in our businesses to live within our means," she said. "We must reform entitlement programs in a way that honors our current commitments while we keep faith with future generations. And we desperately need jobs. "
Palin's last major public appearance in California was two weeks before the Nov. 2 election at a Republican gathering in Anaheim, where she urged supporters to exhaust themselves to achieve a Republican victory in 2010: "We'll all be celebrating, because California will be put back on the right track, along with rest of America," she said in the October speech.
While Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans at the top of the California ticket, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, lost by double digits.
Times staff writer Robin Abcarian contributed to this report.