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  • Sometimes it’s the questions you don’t ask that are telling.  Case in point: the New York Times account of our event with Governor Palin last night.

    Young America’s Foundation hosted Governor Sarah Palin for the keynote address at the opening banquet of our Reagan 100 weekend. This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Celebrations are taking place across the country, but this is a particularly significant weekend for our organization—since the spring of 1998 we’ve been preserving Ronald Reagan’s beloved Ranch home in the mountains north of Santa Barbara, Rancho del Cielo. Today Ronald Reagan’s Western White House is a place where young people come to be inspired by the life, the ideas, the character of Ronald Reagan.

    And Governor Palin visited the Ranch for exactly the same reason.

    The Governor gave a powerful speech at our banquet last night, before an enthusiastic overflow audience. She eloquently and gracefully paid tribute to one of the most significant speeches in American history, Ronald Reagan’s “Time for Choosing” address—while at the same time outlining a vision for America that builds upon President Reagan’s.

    The speech was universally well received by our audience of all ages. But the New York Times chose to focus on some of the logistics of the event in their account:

    Presidential contenders, regardless of their celebrity, are put through a gauntlet of rituals that require a delicate air of patience as they deal with their admirers. Prospective candidates, particularly if they are courting supporters, routinely sit through dinners and mingle with guests. But in her case, Ms. Palin entered the room only for her speech and left immediately after.

    The appearance here was marked by tight security and rigid rules, with guests admonished to stay in their seats when she arrived. (“We’d all like to jump up and give her a high-five, but please stay at your tables,” Kate Obenshain, vice president of the foundation, announced from the dais. “There will be no book signings or autographs.”)

    Governor Palin has a remarkable effect on people. For many conservatives, she’s a rock star. When the Governor walks into a room, normally even-keeled and good-natured people tend to forget their surroundings and rush towards her—to give her hug, to tell her how grateful they are for her courage, to tell her specifically how she has touched their lives. Event planning requires adherence to a basic schedule. At a minimum, you have to make it possible for your speaker to take the stage, in the “friendly confines” of tightly-packed and small room. Not an easy task with a superstar like Sarah Palin but our team sought to make the event run smoothly.

    Photo credit: (c) Jensen Sutta

    Forget the minutia of event planning, though. The Times account is simply not accurate. Here’s the amazing thing about yesterday’s events: they were as much about Gov. Palin coming to Santa Barbara to soak up the spirit of Ronald Reagan as they were about her delivering a keynote address. And on top of that, she was incredibly gracious with her time.

    Our day with Governor Palin actually started much earlier than her arrival at the Reagan Ranch Center. We first greeted Governor Palin when she arrived at the Reagan Ranch itself, family in tow. Joined by Bristol, Willow, Trig, and grandson Tripp, the Governor visited Ronald Reagan’s favorite retreat for the sole purpose of walking in his footsteps, to better understand what motivated and inspired this great man.  We had to ask her to let us chronicle the event in photos and video, to which she reluctantly agreed.

    Governor Palin and her family spent hours at the Ranch on Friday. She met with Young America’s Foundation president Ron Robinson and Vice President Kate Obenshain. She heard personal accounts of the President’s life at Rancho del Cielo—the Ranch in the heavens—from trusted Reagan friend and confident Dennis LeBlanc and former Secret Service agent John Barletta. After touring the grounds, Governor Palin even mounted a horse—confident in the saddle—and road the very same trails the President loved with Agent Barletta.  She had asked if it would be possible to ride, wanting to experience the Ranch as Ronald Reagan did.

    Photo credit: (c) Jensen Sutta

    Though it was clear the Governor enjoyed the experience, it was also clear that this was not just for her—this was an opportunity for her to share the life of her hero with her family. It was a way for her to impart her values, those she shares with Ronald Reagan, with Bristol, Willow, Trig, and Tripp, just as our organization does for hundreds of young people every year as they visit and are inspired by their opportunity to “meet” Ronald Reagan at his Ranch.

    There was a moment late in the day that really sticks with me. It had been a full day–there was so much for us to share and the Governor to take in. As the tour wound down, we stopped at one of the highest points on the Ranch, where a spectacular view opens up to the Santa Ynez Valley. The day was crystal clear, and our small group could look out over the rolling hills of ranchland and wine country framed by the peaks of a distant mountain range. I shared with the Governor something the president told Barbara Walters in an interview at Rancho del Cielo in 1981. Why does this remote property mean so much to you, Walters wondered?  The president’s answer was simple:

    I suppose it’s the scriptural line, “I look to the hills from whence cometh my strength.” I understand it a little better when I’m up here.

    We paused at this spot and Governor Palin walked a few feet away from the rest of the group, to take in more of this dramatic California Central Coast vista, and, I think, to reflect on the experiences she had at the Ranch that day.

    Anyone who has visited Rancho del Cielo knows there is a remarkable simplicity to the property. It’s the ting that shocks most visitors now, as it did the world leaders who visited Reagan there. The president lived in a small, 1,800 square foot adobe with no central air or heat. He built much of the Ranch himself, including an impressive stretch of sturdy, telephone-pole fencing that surrounds the home site and pond.  Everything about the Ranch reflects the great American, and, particularly, western ideals that Ronald Reagan cherished: hard work, responsibility, stewardship of the land, freedom, and opportunity.

    It was clear on Friday that Governor Palin is a leader cut from the same cloth—it is these great western ideals, and the way they could be seen at the Ranch in small but telling details, that she viscerally connected with. And I have to admit, it was fun to see up close how genuine that connection was.

    Photo credit: (c) Jensen Sutta

    Governor Palin went out of the way in her speech to not lay claim to the mantle of Ronald Reagan. “Many people today are looking for the next Reagan. But he was one of a kind, and we won’t see his like again,” she said later in her speech, but it’s his principles and values to which we must lay claim.

    Filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, director of several films on Ronald Reagan, was present throughout the Governor’s trip. “Throughout the day,” Steve told me, “whether it was Ranch hands, students, staff, or donors, it was obvious to me that Governor Palin was there not for herself but to give of herself. She epitomized the values she mentioned in her speech—those of duty and service she equated to our grandparents’ generation.”

    Fast-forward to later that evening, following a speech in which Governor Palin spoke convincingly of her appreciation for the experience she had at the Ranch. The New York Times got this part right—the Governor was immediately whisked out of our main ballroom to an upper floor when she finished her remarks. But she wasn’t on her way out. Instead, the Governor had agreed to individually meet and pose for a photo with each of our 325+ guests that evening. When she walked into our Reagan Ranch Center Exhibit Galleries, a group of college students flown in from around the country for this special weekend was already waiting for her. They broke out into spontaneous applause as she entered the room, the Governor rushing right in to begin shaking hands and learning names. One young man sheepishly asked if he could have a hug from the Governor—and, of course, she willingly obliged.

    The Times reporter Jeff Zeleny could have asked about any of this, but chose not to. Or perhaps he was just disappointed that he didn’t get his hug.

    Photo credit: (c) Jensen Sutta

    Governor Palin with the Young America’s Foundation students:

    Photo credit: (c) Kevin Steele

    Photo credit: (c) Kevin Steele

    Photo credit: (c) Kevin Steele

    Photo credit: (c) Kevin Steele
    • Readers' Comments

    • I feel privileged to be able to learn more about her and President Reagan, through organizations like this one. It gives encouragement and hope, to know there are so many, who cherish these same ideals.
      Posted by Marci Davis on 02/06/2011
    • Thank you for correcting the record! Great inside account too : )
      Posted by clawrence12 on 02/07/2011
    • Andrew: Thank you for a speedy response to the NYT's puzzling interpretation of Governor Palin visit to RR Center. The Governor was a delight! She was gracious and extremely personable when she met and greeted each one of us (post speech). The team at YAF did an exceptional job in organizing the event and flow of patrons after the Governor's speech. Thanks to the YAF team this was a memorable weekend of honor and appreciation for Ronald Reagan and his exceptional leadership.
      Posted by cathey wilkins on 02/08/2011
    • Thank you for a great story! Michael, I read your column every weekend. I seek the truth but the liberal media try to make it as hard as they can to find. I have so much respect for Sarah Palin. I try to imagine what our country would be like with people like Palin in control. Thank you for spreading real HOPE and CHANGE to the people. LINDA
      Posted by Linda on 02/14/2011
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