By Jordan Fabian - 02/07/10 03:37 AM EST
During her speech at the National Tea Party Convention on Saturday night, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) ripped the Democratic Party and Obama administration, calling on them to “stop lecturing and start listening.”
Palin delivered the keynote address at the inaugural gathering of conservative activists and used much of her address in front of a friendly crowd to rally the right and lay out her policy agenda.
"When you're 0-for-3, you'd better stop lecturing and start listening,” she said, referring to GOP gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey.
Palin is a favorite of the Tea Party movement, a loosely related network of conservative anti-establishment activists.
The 2008 vice presidential nominee filled her speech with plenty of red meat for her supporters as well as tough critiques of the Democratic agenda and President Barack Obama.
Some political observers have cast the Tea Party as a threat to establishment Republican candidates running in primaries throughout the country.
Tea Party activists have backed candidates such as Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) against Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in the state’s Senate primary.
Palin welcomed such races, saying they are good for conservatives.
“Competition is good, it makes us work harder and produce more,” Palin said. "Despite what the pundits want you to think, contested primaries aren't civil war, they are democracy at work and that's beautiful."
Palin cast her lot on questions about the Tea Party’s future.
Asked in a pre-screened questioned-and-answer session after the speech if the movement should become an independent party or join the GOP, Palin said, “The Republican Party would be very smart to absorb as much of the Tea Party movement as possible.”
Palin appeared before the conservative group amid criticism about her appearance and questions about her political future.
It was reported before the address that the organizer of the convention was paying Palin a $100,000 honorarium to appear at the event. Palin opponents questioned the amount of the fee paid by a group of supposed grass-roots activists.
Palin did not confirm the amount after the speech, but echoed what she said this week.
“I am happy, honored, proud to take any speaking fee and turn it right back around for the cause,” she said. “It is about the people. I will live, I will die for the people of America.”
Other observers have questioned Palin’s strength as a possible 2012 presidential candidate. On one hand, she has gained a strong following among Tea Party-types who are angry about the Obama agenda and tired of rising government spending and deficits.
But critics have pointed to Palin’s resignation as governor last summer and her unpopularity among independents as weaknesses on the campaign trail.
Nonetheless, much of Palin’s address sounded like a presidential stump speech, hitting on policy areas like national security and the economy.
Palin hit at the Obama administration’s foreign policy, saying it demonstrated weakness through poor decisions. She said the government should implement a strict crackdown against terrorism.
"We need a foreign policy that distinguishes America’s friends from her enemies and identifies the true threats we face,” she said.
Palin contrasted her speech with Obama’s State of the Union, saying that he only spent "9 percent" of his speech on national security because "there aren't a whole lot of victories" he can tout, noting the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day terror attack and what she says are strengthened regimes in North Korea and Iran.
The former governor quoted late President Ronald Reagan, a darling of the conservative movement whose 99th birthday would have been Saturday, saying her foreign policy vision is “peace through strength.”
Palin slammed the banking bailouts (which were enacted during the Bush administration) as well as the federal stimulus package and Obama’s $3.8 trillion federal budget for 2011.
"We're drowning in national debt and many of us have had enough!” she said, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Between the policy statements were plenty of zingers that riled the crowd of conservative activists.
Palin told the Tea Partiers not to worry about attacks from the "irrelevant lamestream media,” saying that speaking out is the "best way to serve and answer those who tell us to sit down and shut up."
At one point she asked the television audience watching on all the major cable news networks, "How's that hopey changey stuff working out for ya?"
"The Tea Party is not a top-down operation; it's ground-up call to action forcing both parties to change the ways they’re doing business,” she said, adding that it’s bigger than any “charismatic guy with a teleprompter.”
Near the end of her speech in a segment praising American values, Palin appeared to shed some tears when she talked about acceptance for people with special needs. Her youngest son, Trig, has Down syndrome.
Palin tacked back to praising the Tea Partiers by the end of her speech.
"The government is supposed to be working for the people, that is what this movement is about,” she said, exiting to cheers of “Go Sarah, Go!”