Sarah Palin signs autographs after her speech to tea party activists in… (Jim Young, Reuters )
Reporting from Indianola, Iowa — She didn't jump into the race, but she didn't rule out a run, either. Three years to the day after accepting her party's nomination for vice president, Sarah Palin stood onstage in a sodden field and pointedly attacked President Obama and, by implication, the 2012 Republican presidential field.
As she repeatedly condemned "crony capitalism" and the "permanent political class," Palin made it clear Saturday that she intended to use what political muscle she had in the 2012 campaign, even if she had to flex it from the sidelines.
After joking about grilling caribou and venison on Labor Day weekend, Palin hit the usual "tea party" high notes about the dangers of a second Obama term, the sacrifices of previous generations and the country's perilous debt.
While Obama, she noted, is on track to raise a billion dollars for his reelection campaign, she said Republican candidates "also raise mammoth amounts of cash."
"We need to ask them too, what, if anything, do their donors expect from their investments," Palin said. "Our country can't afford more trillion-dollar thank-you notes to campaign backers."
It was not lost on the crowd of about 2,000 that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had spent most of his career in office and had been accused of richly rewarding his big donors. Polls show that Perry is, at least for the moment, the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Palin campaigned for Perry's reelection in 2010.
At times, Palin sounded every bit the candidate — proposing her own plan for economic recovery, including the repeal of the president's healthcare plan, focusing on energy independence by developing America's natural resources, and putting an end to the federal corporate income tax. "This" she said, "is how we create millions of high-paying jobs."
To offset the loss of government revenue, she said, she would "eliminate corporate welfare — the loopholes and bailouts."
"Barack Obama promised to cut the deficit in half. Instead he turned around and tripled it," Palin said. "Barack Obama is adrift. He doesn't make sense."
"Who wants to win the future by investing in harebrained ideas [like] solar panels and really fast trains?" These, she said, are "nonstarters.... All aboard Obama's bullet train to bankruptcy."
During her 40-minute speech, delivered an hour or so after the crowd had braved torrential rains, she was repeatedly interrupted by chants of, "Run, Sarah, run."
Palin paused and smiled broadly at the interruptions but did not so much as allude to a White House run. Afterward, as she shook hands and signed hats, books and T-shirts on the rope line, she said she had not yet made a decision.
She also refused to say whether she was directing her barbs at Perry. But at a Conservatives4Palin gathering Friday night in a restaurant near Des Moines, many in the crowd of 180 — about half of whom had traveled from Texas — repeatedly used the phrase "crony capitalism" to describe what they didn't like about their state's chief executive.
"We need to make sure all our GOP candidates are fighting corporate capitalism and aren't participating in it," she said as she signed a baseball cap. "We have a great opportunity to finally knock it down."
Palin, who is scheduled to visit New Hampshire on Monday, gave the impression that she was passing some sort of torch to the tea party adherents who constitute her most ardent fans.
"Real hope," she said, "will come from you."