Will Palin's book tour start a new political movement?

Posted: Monday, November 23, 2009

WASHINGTON, Pa. - When Sarah Palin made her first trip to western Pennsylvania as GOP presidential candidate John McCain's fresh-faced running mate, the Arizona senator warned locals that she "doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down."

Palin returned to Washington, Pa. on her own Saturday as a "Commonsense Conservative," a definition crafted on her own terms and in her own words in her own best-selling memoir, "Going Rogue."

"It's grass roots America; it's common sense," said Joy Koplinski, 62, a retiree from Pittsburgh who waited overnight in the parking lot of a Sam's Club warehouse store for Palin to autograph a copy of the book. "She's the female Ronald Reagan."

In the first few days of a cross-country book tour to promote her memoir, the former Alaska governor's supporters have greeted her with a populist fervor unmatched in Internet-age Republican politics.

From her first stop last week in Grand Rapids, Mich., to Saturday's lunchtime book signing at the Washington, Pa., Sam's Club, thousands of people have lined up for hours, often in the cold, for a few moments in Palin's presence.

Since she stepped down this summer as Alaska governor, Palin has been cagey about her plans. But with her campaign-style bus and adoring crowds reminiscent of her vice presidential bid, her swing through red zones of bluish states - Indiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia - has appeared to be something more than a book tour.

While it's too early to call it a campaign, Palin's brand of common sense conservatism crackles with the energy of a burgeoning political movement.

In "The Way Forward," the title of the final chapter of her memoir, she says that her persona and her political philosophy are based on common sense that were last espoused by Reagan, her political idol. The role of government, Palin writes, "is not to perfect us, but to protect us."

Some, like Doug McKinnis, see Palin's political philosophy as a stand against what he describes as "government control, dependence on the government and loss of liberty."

McKinnis, a 48-year-old commercial pilot from Palin's Alaska hometown, Wasilla, was visiting his mother in Pennsylvania when he learned that Palin was signing books. He dropped by the Sam's Club with his "Alaskans Love Sarah" sign.

"The way I see things going in our country, there are two lines," McKinnis said. The line he waited in outside the Palin event represents "liberty, freedom, independence and a constitutional government."

The other line is just the opposite, McKinnis said. "I want to be in the line of freedom, and I think Sarah Palin is a voice for freedom."

Palin appears to have tapped into a powerful strain of populism fueled by dissatisfaction with the economy and by fear that the Democratic Party that's running the country is made up of elites who aren't listening, said Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University in Iowa.

"A populist is against big, period," Goldford said. "The populist basically says, 'Look, big labor, big business, big government, they're all trying to screw me, the little guy.' That populism that she's tapped into, it's partly a politics of resentment. She's very much somebody who bristles with all sorts of resentments."

The term coined by Palin in her book has been around for a while, said Greg Mueller, a conservative strategist and a veteran of Republican presidential campaigns. Palin, however, seems to have seized on something timely by putting her brand on common sense conservatism, he said.

"If Palin is using it," Mueller said, "there's a very good chance it's going to have resonance in certain communities."

Those communities include a vast network of people who are connected online and unified by the Tea Party protests of the summer, as well as those who've taken up their cause, including FOX News talk show hosts Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

If Palin wanted, she could lead that movement, said sisters Leann Marcolini, 51, and Amy Jo Brown, 39, both of Fredericktown, Pa.

"Her no-nonsense, we're-not-going-to-take-it-anymore attitude is what inspired the Tea Party movement," said Brown, a schoolteacher. "She talks the talk and walks the walk."

In western Pennsylvania, there's a deep distrust of the federal government, both sisters said, dating to efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up coal mining practices in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They fear a repeat of those times if Congress passes cap-and-trade legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"This area's been hit hard by liberal policies," Brown said, and if cap-and-trade moves forward, "it's going to hit these industries again," Marcolini said.

Palin, Marcolini said, speaks for the people who "our elitist government is not bothering to listen to."

"You have to have common sense," she said.

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