Wearing a cardinal-red jacket and a knowing smile, Sarah Palin tore into President Barack Obama here in her best barracuda style, driving a crowd of 3,000 cheering southern Republican conservatives here in New Orleans into an early election-season frenzy and eliciting shouts of "Run, Sarah, Run!"
A Palin speech at a GOP gathering these days—especially one like the 40th anniversary Southern Republican Leadership Conference—is the closest the party gets to a rock concert.
Whatever else she is, Palin is a master of the crowd-pleasing soundbite attack. In rapid-fire succession, she ripped into Obama and the Democrats with a sarcastic ferocity that no other GOP speaker or would-be candidate can match.
Even her screechy voice—I know some Republicans here for whom that is a major obstacle in supporting her—works to her advantage, at least with audiences such as this one.
It is an ambulance siren in what conservatives regard as a catastrophe.
A lot of the cheers and shrieks of delight came from the women in the crowd—and there was a far higher percentage of women than I usually see at this kind of event. The reason is clear: conservative women see her as their symbol and champion. "I've never felt I had a voice in politics and now I do," said Laura Seabaugh, a married mother of four from Shreveport, La. "I think the feminists set us back. They separate us from men, and we're not separated from men. I care about women's rights in terms of employment and such, but I'm also a girlie-girl. I don't identify with Barbara Walters and most of the women on The View."
No one on the GOP scene today comes close not only in combative content but in media timing: for months she has consistently been the first to ride whatever news wave is out there on events coming out of Washington, the Obama administration, and the Democratic Congress.
And she not only doesn't mind getting personal, she loves it.
For example, she returned fire on the president, who today airily dismissed her criticisms of his nuclear policy. She wasn't an expert, he said. Today she drew cheers when she hit back. She derided his new nuclear stance and failure to rein in or slow North Korea and Iran. "Now, the president, with all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer [cheers] and as a part-time senator and as a full-time candidate, all that experience, still no accomplishment to date with North Korea and Iran!"
I don't know who writes her stuff, but it is as tart and nasty as anything Pat Buchanan used to devise for Richard Nixon a generation ago, or that James Carville used to invent for Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
On foreign policy, she said that Obama "coddles enemies and alienates allies," offers "cookies and gold stars" to countries that don't deserve praise, and "writes letters to Iranian mullahs and barely a word" for human-rights activists in China or elsewhere.
She struck hard on the topic of Israel's controversial decision to approve new housing construction. Obama, she said, "escalated a minor zoning decision into a major confrontation." Someone needs to tell the president, she said, that "Jerusalem is not a settlement and Israel is our friend."
Some other soundbites:
- "There is no shame in being the party of no if the other party violates our Constitution. We're not the party of no, we're the party of hell no!"
- On Obama's offshore-oil photo op: "The only thing missing from that ceremony was the soundtrack from Top Gun and Joe Biden in a flight suit."
- "Let's drill, baby, drill not stall, baby, stall."
- "You can drill all you want off the shore of Virginia, but you won't find bipartisanship down there."
- Global warming is "Goregate stuff."
- "There's nothing stopping us from achieving energy independence that a good old American election can't fix."
All in all, it was an impressive performance, if you're impressed by skill at whipping voters into a fighting mood.
But that is what this group wanted, and it is what Soundbite Sarah gave them.