- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

WOODBURY, N.Y. | Sarah Palin is still thinking about running for president in 2012, and she made clear Thursday she will make her decision on her own terms.

In some of her most extensive comments to date on the current political scene, the former Alaska governor stood firm in her claim that President Obama’s health care overhaul could lead to “death panels.” She also argued there should be no new gun-control measures enacted in reaction to Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting.

And she even poked at first lady Michelle Obama for urging new mothers to breast-feed.

The former Republican vice presidential candidate sat for a wide-ranging interview Thursday at the annual meeting of the Long Island Association, a business group outside New York.

Mrs. Palin agreed to an unscripted question-and-answer session with the association’s president, Kevin Law, who pressed her on gun rights, her presidential aspirations, her propensity for communicating through Facebook and her role as a contributor on Fox News.

Reporters were permitted inside to cover the New York event, unlike many Palin speaking engagements where reporters have been banned.

It was Mrs. Palin’s first major public appearance since Mrs. Giffords was critically wounded and six people were killed at an event in her Tucson, Ariz., congressional district. Mrs. Palin came under criticism following the shootings because she had published campaign literature advocating the ouster of the congresswoman and other House Democrats by placing their districts in the cross hairs of a gun. However, there is no evidence the suspect in the shootings ever saw that map.

Mr. Law asked Mrs. Palin if she would support efforts to restrict semi-automatic weapons or multi-bullet clips.

“There are already on the books many gun-control measures, and I do support those that are on the books. I do not support taking away more freedom from the good guy,” Mrs. Palin replied. “The people who have no intention of using that weapon to harm another person so, no additional gun-control measures could be supported.”

She added, “Prayers should continue for the full recovery of Gabby Giffords and others who were involved in such a tragic, tragic event.”

Mrs. Palin acknowledged she was still thinking about running for president in 2012 and predicted an unconventional Republican contest in which social media would play a pivotal role.

“That’s what ‘going rogue’ is all about,” she said, referring to the title of her best-selling memoir.

Asked who should lead the GOP ticket, Mrs. Palin was vague but playful.

“No one is more qualified, really, to multitasking and the things you need to do as president than a woman, a mom,” said Mrs. Palin, who has five children, including a toddler with Down syndrome.

Mrs. Palin criticized Mr. Obama on a range of issues, from his handling of the recent democratic uprising in Egypt to his latest budget proposal, which she said would do little to close the deficit. She claimed the press had been complicit in allowing Mr. Obama to claim that his budget did not add to the national debt.

“Criticism of press is what I do,” she said.

She also praised the tea party movement, saying it had “forced both parties to rethink the way they do business.”

Mrs. Palin said the landmark health care bill Mr. Obama signed last year gave her heartburn. She also defended her much-criticized claim that the law would lead to federal “death panels” determining whether elderly and the infirm would receive care.

She said: “My question was, who are these faceless bureaucrats on a panel who will decide? Will it be my baby with Down syndrome, who maybe somebody may judge him as not having that level of productivity somebody else may have?”

Mrs. Palin also noted the recent increases in the price of food and mocked Mrs. Obama to make her point. The first lady is encouraging mothers to breast-feed their infants as part of her campaign to reduce childhood obesity - an effort that has drawn scorn from some conservatives as an example of government overreach.

The business-oriented attendees welcomed the speech even in densely populated, Democratic-tilting suburban New York area.

“I think the reaction from everyone here today was very positive,” bank executive Sallyanne Ballweg said. “She was reflecting a lot of things on people’s minds in terms of the economy and job creation. I think she balanced it with her own sense of humor.”

Robert Zimmerman, a public relations executive and local member of the Democratic National Committee, was predictably less impressed, calling Mrs. Palin “the Lady Gaga of politics.”

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