How the Tea Party Helped the Big Banks
One of the most high impact outbursts in the history of television occurred on February 19, 2009 when CNBC editor Rick Santelli, standing on the floor of the world’s largest derivatives exchange, launched into a spontaneous attack on a White House plan to provide mortgage relief to homeowners. Santelli’s remarks were pointed. He accused the White House of “promoting bad behavior” and questioned whether government should “subsidize the losers’ mortgages.” He ended with a rhetorical flourish by asking, “President Obama, are you listening?” in response to which the crowd near him on the exchange floor erupted into applause and cheers. At the end of the clip, Santelli announced, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party.” His remarks became the subject of a White House press briefing the next day in which Press Secretary Robert Gibbs rebuked Santelli and the derivatives industry generally.
Students of the national Tea Party still debate whether Santelli’s attack was the beginning of that movement. There were Tea Party-like protests against government spending going back as far as 2006. Yet, many observers consider Santelli’s comments to have had a catalytic effect. Websites, organized protests and media commentary about the “Tea Party” all emerged within 24 hours of Santelli’s attack. The outburst transformed the Tea Party from a loose array of local protests into a more cohesive and focused political movement.