The rant that gave birth to the Tea Party movement

Rick Santelli

Five years ago today, Rick Santelli gave an epic rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange against President Barack Obama’s mortgage bailout proposal that gave birth to what we now know as the Tea Party movement.

“The government is promoting bad behavior,” Santelli said on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “Because we certainly don’t want to put stimulus forth and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check, and think that they ought to save it.”

“I’ll tell you what, I have an idea,” he continued. “You know, the new administration’s big on computers and technology. How about this, President and new administration? Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?”

Traders on the floor applauded Santelli’s suggestion, at which point he turned around and asked those around him, “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand.” The response was a chorus of “boos.”

“President Obama, are you listening?!” asked Santelli.

Though pointed in his criticism of the plan, Santelli was explaining the dangers of the federal government bailing out banks and people for making bad decisions. Lenders were encouraged by government policy to make risky loans to people who couldn’t necessarily afford to make mortgage payments.

The $75 billion proposal pushed by the White House — Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan — essentially bailed out at-risk homeowners, allowing them remodify or refinance their troubled mortgages. The plan also increased the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-backed mortgage guarantors that encouraged private lenders to make risky loans, from $100 billion each to $200 billion.

“We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July,” Santelli said. “All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.”

Those who heard Santelli’s rant, which went viral on YouTube, didn’t wait until July. On February 27, the first major round of Tea Party protests were held in dozens of cities around the country — including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Tampa, and Washington, DC.

Though the initial protests were small to medium sized, the movement grew quickly by April 15, when organizers planned “Tax Day” protests. Concerned Americans showed up at the events by the thousands, including at least 7,000 in Atlanta, 4,000 in Cincinnati, and up to 5,000 in New York City.

While maligned and derided by the Left, the Tea Party movement went on to play a significant role in the healthcare debate in late-2009 and early-2010. Though the Democrat-controlled Congress passed Obamacare, the movement played a role in pressuring vulnerable Democrats at townhall events in the summer of 2010.

The Tea Party movement served as the catalyst for the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term election, during which the GOP gained a net-63 seats.

Looking back on his rant on election day in 2010, Santelli said, “[I]f they write on my tombstone that I was the catalyst in the forming of the Tea Party movement, they could bury me with a smile.”

There are plenty of things that could be said about Republican attempts to co-opt the Tea Party movement or how there has been too much focus by some activists on ancillary issues that have little-to-nothing to do with its original purpose. One has to wonder what would have happened in the fall of 2010 if Santelli had said nothing. But, if you’re a fiscal conservative, you’re thanking your lucky stars that he did.

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