BOSTON — Sarah Palin rallied the conservative tea party movement near the scene of its historical inspiration Wednesday, telling Washington politicians that government should be working for the people, not the other way around.
Addressing roughly 5,000 people, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee accused President Barack Obama of overreaching with his $787 billion stimulus program. She also criticized the administration's health care, student loan and financial regulatory overhauls.
"Is this what their 'change' is all about?" Palin asked the crowd on a sun-splashed Boston Common. "I want to tell 'em, nah, we'll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion – and you can keep the change."
Tea partiers planned to meet for a final rally in Washington on Thursday, coinciding with the federal tax-filing deadline. Local events are also planned in Oklahoma, Ohio and other locations.
Palin put her own spin on Tax Day, saying, "We need to cut taxes so that our families can keep more of what they earn and produce, and our mom-and-pops, then, our small businesses, can reinvest according to our own priorities, and hire more people and let the private sector grow and thrive and prosper."
She also played to the crowd by trotting out a trademark line as she lobbied for more domestic energy production.
"Yeah, let's drill, baby, drill, not stall, baby, stall – you betcha," Palin said, though Obama recently proposed to expand drilling off the Atlantic, and Gulf coasts.
The gathering intended to hark back to 1773, when American colonists upset about British taxation without government representation threw British tea into the harbor in protest – just a mile from the site of Wednesday's rally.
Americans are paying lower taxes this year, but that is not expected to last. In the next few years, some increases will come as part of the national health care overhaul.
The modern tea party movement claims both Republican and Democratic members and is punctuated by those who question the legitimacy of Obama's presidency. Some doubt he was born in the United States, as his birth certificate shows.
A New York Times/CBS News poll posted online Wednesday night found that an overwhelming majority of tea party supporters believe Obama doesn't share the values of most Americans or understand the problems of people like them.
Several speakers protested suggestions of racist undertones to the movement, which sprouted as the nation elected its first black president. Nonetheless, virtually the entire speaking program and audience were white.
An exception was the singer of the Tea Party anthem, Lloyd Marcus, who made a point of describing himself not as African-American, but American.
One person in the crowd, John Arathuzik, 69, of Topsfield, said he had never been especially politically active until he saw the direction of the Obama administration.
"I feel like I can do one of two things: I can certainly vote in November, which I'll do, and I can provide support for the peaceful protest about the direction this country is taking," said Arathuzik, a veteran who clutched a copy of the Constitution distributed by a vendor.
Michael Brantmuller, a 40-year-old unemployed carpenter from Salem, N.H., said he appreciated Palin's speech but added: "I don't know whether she's the right spokesperson, because she's such a polarizing figure and people may judge her before they listen to her."
A festive mood filled the air. A band played patriotic music, and hawkers sold yellow Gadsden flags emblazoned with the words "Don't Tread on Me" and the image of a rattlesnake.
Small groups of counterprotesters urged civility, as well as respect for gay and minority rights. They noted some members of Congress alleged racism after voting for Obama's health care law.
"Public discourse is great – there's room for the tea party – but there's no room for racism or homophobia or any other negative discourse," said Susan Leslie, a member of the group, Standing on the Side of Love.
Notably absent was Sen. Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who in January won the seat held for half a century by liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy.
He cited congressional business, which included hearings about the Iranian nuclear program.
"That's a heck of a lot more important than him being here right now," conservative talk show host Mark Williams told the crowd.
While the movement claimed partial credit for his victory, Brown has kept his distance. If he gets too close, he risks being aligned with the tea party's more radical followers.
He is up for re-election in 2012, and most of the state political establishment remains Democratic.