The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee delivered a stinging critique of Washington during her speech Friday, part of the national celebration marking the centennial of Reagan's birth on Feb. 6.
Revisiting themes familiar from her 2008 campaign, she said the nation was being shackled by high debt and taxes, dense government regulation and rising spending, often for programs that don't work. She said a rush toward green energy was overlooking the nation's oil and natural gas reserves, a choice that will cost jobs and drive up pump prices.
She blamed Washington leaders - an apparent reference to the Obama administration - for doing "everything in their power to stymie responsible domestic drilling."
"This is dangerous. This is insane," she said. "This is not the road to national greatness, it is the road to ruin."
She alluded to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last month, saying it amounted to a statement that "the era of big government is here to stay."
Palin was asked to talk about Reagan's 1964 speech, "A Time for Choosing," which he gave on behalf of then-Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. In it, he talks at length about the dangers of high taxes and encroaching big government, as well as the necessity of strong national security.
She said the decisions the nation faces are not unlike those Reagan talked of in the 1960s, only the economy of today is worse, from home foreclosures to high unemployment.
"This is a time for choosing again, and the vision we outline here is just as stark as it was in 1964. But we must look over the horizon, as Reagan did. We must see where these unsound policies will ultimately end, and that's in decline and defeat," she said.
She said Reagan saw the danger of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, and "he refused to sit down and be silent as our liberties were eroded by an out of control, centralized government that overtaxed and overreached in utter disregard of constitutional limits."
"We could choose one direction or the other, socialism or freedom and free markets," Palin said.
Palin received a roaring ovation, but Reagan's son told The Associated Press in an interview that he doesn't see anything in common between his dad and the former Alaska governor, who was invited to speak by the event's sponsor, the conservative Young America's Foundation.
"Sarah Palin is a soap opera, basically. She's doing mostly what she does to make money and keep her name in the news," Ron Reagan said.
"She is not a serious candidate for president and never has been," said Reagan, a political independent whose politics lean left.
But former Reagan speechwriter Kenneth Khachigian praised the choice of Palin to discuss Reagan's legacy.
Palin was a teenager when Reagan took office in 1981 and like many young people "their lives and philosophy and political fortunes were shaped by the Reagan era," Khachigian says. "She can reflect on that as well as anyone could."
Palin was introduced to the nation at the Republican National Convention in 2008, and her folksy, wisecracking style sometimes earned her comparisons to Reagan, who was known for his wit and appeal beyond the traditional Republican base, especially with blue-collar Democrats. She frequently referred to Reagan on the campaign trail, and in her debate with Vice President Joe Biden reprised Reagan's famous rejoinder from his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter, "There you go again."
If she is making in any preparations to run for the presidency in 2012, she made no mention of it in her remarks.
Palin, who now is closely aligned with the tea party movement, has become for some a polarizing political figure.
Tea partiers rail against soaring public debt and sprawling government programs like Social Security and Medicare. But public debt roughly tripled on Reagan's watch and he did not attempt to dismantle Social Security or Medicare during his term, says Reagan biographer Lou Cannon.
"He was no tea partier," Cannon says.
The Young America's Foundation was founded in the 1960s to promote conservative ideas on college campuses, and it purchased Reagan's former ranch in 1998. The foundation is not connected with the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.