By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
It has been almost a year since CNBC reporter Rick Santelli’s Squawk Box rant against government debt and bailouts and his call for a new American tea party. Now, as the tea-party movement his comments sparked reaches into every political race in the nation, Santelli’s getting credit for his role. “I still think that all the dynamics that I felt as it was happening are still in place today,” says Santelli, who wants to add one new element: heavy-handed government reform of healthcare.
While refusing to be a tea-party spokesman, Santelli is receiving much due in a recent book, A New American Tea Party. “Santelli was very important,” says author John O’Hara, a former Bushie. He tells Whispers that while most people just accepted the Bush and Obama administration claims that they had to bail out Wall Street and Detroit to avert catastrophic failures, “Santelli said what a lot of people were thinking and afraid to say” when he roared that “government is promoting bad behavior.”
The reporter pulls an aw-shucks when told he is the reason the tea-party alliance started. “It’s very gratifying to me that four minutes out of my life made a difference,” he says. “It seems to me that any reason for people getting more active in running or taking part in politics and government I think is just terrific.” Of course, politicians flooded his phone then to get him to run for office in Illinois. But he isn’t giving up his day job. “There’s so much compromise in politics. I’m not a good compromiser,” he says, laughing.
Santelli has no regrets, even though White House spokesman Robert Gibbs slapped him down for his comments and neither Gibbs nor any other White House official ever reached out to him. “I don’t think that there is a beer summit in the cards for me at the White House,” says Santelli, a modern-day incarnation of Howard Beale of the 1976 movie hit Network.
O’Hara, meanwhile, says the movement is OK without a face or central leader, and he shrugs off attacks from Gibbs and other Democrats. “They are essentially so afraid of the power of this movement that they need to ridicule it.”
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.