During her speech to the first ever National Tea Party Convention in Nashville on Saturday, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin discouraged the very idea of a national organization, urging the movement to stay leaderless and decentralized. This was the most important and valuable part of Palin’s speech.

As for the rest of it—Sarah sounded pretty much like the same old Republican Party.

Despite the many independents that make up the movement, the tea parties in large part represent a long overdue reexamination of conservative principles. A big-spending Democratic president seems to have awakened grassroots conservatives enough to finally lament the big spending of the last Republican president, and plenty of incumbents from both parties face voter backlash in 2010 and possibly beyond, particularly if they supported bailouts, stimulus, national healthcare, or other massive debt-incurring legislation.

The tea partiers are right to acknowledge and denounce Bush’s big-government growth of Medicare, the implementation of No Child Left Behind, and Dubya’s other expansions of the domestic state. But what they still seem to forget is what made conservatives so tolerant of big government during that time—an almost religious preoccupation with supporting the Iraq War.

Today, defense spending remains the largest part of the federal budget, dwarfing the bailouts, stimulus, healthcare, and other government programs that offend tea partiers most, and President Obama is still expanding that budget and escalating our wars. One would think cost-conscious voters would at least question Obama’s wisdom in continuing Bush’s exorbitant foreign policy. Yet few tea partiers are asking such questions, and according to Palin, Obama’s primary weakness is that he’s not enough like George W. Bush.

Following up her tea party speech on “Fox News Sunday,” Palin said of Obama, “If he decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies, I think people would perhaps shift their thinking a little bit and decide, Well, maybe he’s tougher than …he is today, and there wouldn’t be as much passion to make sure that he doesn’t serve another four years.”

What is Palin trying to say? That tea party anger towards Obama would lessen if the president was to “toughen up,” becoming even more intent on waging war? Does Palin believe that the massive domestic spending conservatives don’t like would be tolerated so long as Obama increases the massive foreign spending conservatives do like? Isn’t this exactly what happened under Bush?

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