Michael Barone, Tea Parties, and Rick Santelli’s Rant

Michael Barone has a great article in the Washington Examiner that places CNBC economic analyst Rick Santelli’s live “rant” against the Stimulus Package in its rightful place as a key trigger to the current Tea Party movement. Barone writes:

Incumbents are not popular, especially Democratic incumbents. Democrats’ big-government programs are hugely unpopular. Economic distress has made Americans yearn not for more government but for less.

How to explain something contrary to the New Deal historians’ teaching that economic distress increases support for big government? Clues can be obtained, I think, by examining what amounts to the founding document of the Tea Party movement, Rick Santelli’s “rant” on the CME trading floor in Chicago, telecast live by CNBC on Feb. 19, 2009.

Indeed. I heard one Jacksonville, Florida Tea Party “founding father”, or really mother, specifically mention Santelli’s rant as a wake up call and motivator for her efforts to organize tea parties. I also remember watching the rant on CNBC (and it was a rant and very effective polemic) as well and thinking, “Wow, thank God someone is willing to call out this nonsense for what it is.”

The unprofessional bullying directed at Santelli by the White House press office in the immediate aftermath simply confirmed to many the heavy handed and elitist nature of economic policy at the time.

Moreover, as Barone points out in his column:

Santelli was arguing that the people who, in Bill Clinton’s felicitous phrase, “work hard and play by the rules” shouldn’t have to subsidize those who took on debts that they couldn’t repay.

This was both an economic and a moral argument. Economic, because subsidies to the improvident are an unproductive investment. We know now that very many of the beneficiaries of the administration’s mortgage modification programs ended up in foreclosure anyway. Subsidies just prolonged the agony.

But it’s also a moral argument. Taking money away from those who made prudent decisions and giving it to people who made imprudent decisions is casting society’s vote for imprudence and self-indulgence. It mocks thrift and makes chumps out of those who pay their own way. We should, Santelli argued, “reward people that can carry the water rather than just drink the water.”

Kudos to CNBC for its tolerance of dissenting voices and to Rick Santelli for not backing down. History is vindicating the substance of his critique on both economic and moral grounds.