Sarah Palin's chaw: Why did she wave chewing tobacco during NRA speech?

Sarah Palin used a tin of chewing tobacco as a visual aid at last weekend's NRA convention in Houston. This follows her sipping from a Big Gulp during her CPAC speech in March.

Steve Ueckert/AP
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the leadership forum at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting Friday, in Houston.

Why is Sarah Palin holding up a tin of chewing tobacco? That’s what attendees at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention in Houston might have asked if they weren’t paying close attention to the speeches. You know, you’re poking around the merchandise tables, maybe getting a snack, and you look up at the video screens that show the action – and there’s the former governor of Alaska waving what appears to be a can of chaw. Does she chew that stuff herself?

No, not as far as we can tell. At least not in public. She was using the chewing tobacco as a visual aid in her battle against what she perceives as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-freedom crusade.

In March at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Ms. Palin defiantly sipped from a Big Gulp to mock Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in city restaurants. At the NRA convention she went a bit further, taking the tin of tobacco (no word on what brand) out of her pocket and showing it to the crowd in an attempt to belittle Bloomberg’s new proposal to forbid stores from publicly displaying tobacco products, set a minimum price for cigarettes, and prevent stores from redeeming tobacco-company coupons.

“Don’t make me do it!” said Palin to laughter from the crowd, tapping the tin as if she were about to open it. “That’s funny, though: Todd has been looking for this all morning.”

Now, earlier in the speech, Palin criticized President Obama for using parents from Newtown, Conn., as symbols in his attempt to get a gun-control bill through the Senate.

“Making them backdrops ... we have leaders who practice the politics of emotion,” Palin said.

Wasn’t the tobacco tin kind of a backdrop, though? Palin herself is pretty good at riling up a conservative crowd with applause lines, which is also the politics of emotion.

That said, New York City’s Bloomberg is a good target for a lot of people, since his ambitions are large and his enthusiasms can seem nanny-like. He was even mocked in the cold open of “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend. The skit was complicated: We’ll just say it involved a 16-liter cup of cherry soda, a fake “Fox & Friends” interview, and gun control.

“If there’s one person American gun owners will listen to, it’s a northeastern Jewish billionaire,” insisted “Mayor Bloomberg,” played by Fred Armisen.

Nor is Palin alone in criticizing the proposed ban on visible tobacco. An association of small grocery owners in the city has started a “Save Our Stores” campaign, arguing that the move would just create a black market in tobacco products while depriving them of crucial sales.

But it’s a lot easier to mock soda control than new tobacco regulations, given the science linking illness and tobacco products. Bloomberg has pointed out that some entire nations, such as Canada and Britain, have enacted similar prohibitions on displaying tobacco products.  

“This legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said in March.

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