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A Tea Party Goes Down, 2010 Style

Val Touba, of Bedford, N.H., clenches his hands as he listens to Sarah Palin address the crowd at the Tea Party rally on Boston Common on Wednesday. (AP)

BOSTON — The Tea Party Express made its final stop in Washington on Tax Day.  But before, on Wednesday, it made a stop on the Boston Common. That’s where thousands of Massachusetts Tea Partiers gathered to listen to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Tea Party rallies across the country have settled into a pattern, as they’ve gone from Searchlight, Nev., to the nation’s capital. There’s music. There’s local, national and international media. Take a cast of thousands and add a megastar such as former Republican vice presidential nominee Palin to light up the crowd. Then tap into the current of dissatisfaction with President Obama and Democrats.

Palin did just that. She took on the Obama administration in every conceivable way. She attacked the new health care overhaul, as well as the president’s foreign policy, and even his campaign slogan. “Is this what their change is all about?” Palin asked.  “I wanna tell them, ‘Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution, and our guns and religion and you can keep the change.’ ”

Sarah Palin in Boston on Wednesday (AP)

Palin made it a point to defend the Tea Party movement against what she called false accusations of violence and racism. The movement, she said, is open to everyone. The crowd on Boston Common was similar to other Tea Party rallies: largely white, middle-class and middle-aged.

What was different about this Tea Party was its relationship to conservative and Republican leaders. Conspicuous by their absence were several leading Massachusetts Republicans, such as Sen. Scott Brown. But the head of the state’s GOP, Jennifer Nassour, was there. She kept a distance from Palin. It wasn’t clear how intentional that was. Nassour stood in the crowd, was not a part of the delegation that met with Palin, and she didn’t take the stage.

But Nassour says she hope’s the Republican Party can benefit from Tea Party enthusiasm. “I feel that it’s important for us to embrace everyone, whoever it is,” she said after the rally. In order to win in Massachusetts, Nassour and the GOP have to capture conservatives without alienating independents.  And Nassour’s job is winning in November, as she acknowledged: “I would like them to come and talk about having a two-party system and how we can merge together and get our candidates elected in November.”

If the crowd at the Tea Party rally was any indication, the ranks of the state GOP may swell. Beverly Lafleur, from Randolph, says she was a Democrat all her life. But she and many on the Common said they’re disappointed with Massachusetts Democrats. She says corruption and the arrogance of the Democratic Party make her want change.

“The party changed, I didn’t,” she said with bemused frustration. “I was a John F. Kennedy Democrat. I believed in what he believed and what Bobby Kennedy believed in. And that’s not what they believe in now. They just wanna take over and control. They want to control us. They want to tell us how to live, what to eat. That’s not what America’s all about.”

It wasn’t just the Tea Party faithful who crowded the Common. Dozens of college students came dressed like Founding Fathers and carrying humorous signs, like “Gay for Palin.” Non-Tea Partiers mingled among the crowd without much incident, though a few heated arguments broke out. Hundreds of office workers ambled about the perimeter to see this version of the Boston Tea Party, 2010 style.

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