Family, Faith, and Flag
by Sarah Palin
HarperCollins, 2010, 304 pp., $25.95
The Tea Party Goes to Washington
by Senator Rand Paul with Jack Hunter
Center Street, 2011, 272 pp., $21.99
Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto
by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe
William Morrow, 2010, 272 pp., $19.99
As with the Beatles and the Roman Empire, there are contending versions of when the Tea Party movement began. It is most likely, though, that had it not been for a televised outburst by CNBC financial analyst Rick Santelli on February 19, 2009, the Tea Party would never have become a household name. Santelli flew into a rage over President Obama’s plans to help distressed homeowners. In the thick of a crowd of commodities traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, whom he absurdly described as “a pretty good cross section of America”, Santelli proceeded to whip them into a frenzy against Obama’s market intervention: “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage?!”
Ironies abound. For one, you would really have to go a piece to find a stranger location than the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for the birth of a movement that relentlessly characterizes itself as being worried that “the little guy no longer has a fair shot in America”, as Sarah Palin puts it in her book, America by Heart. Earlier populists of both the Right and the Left would have seen the Merc floor as a den of elitist privilege and financial intrigue. Never has an American populist movement been launched by so many who fart through silk.
Another irony is that the gross iniquity responsible for sparking Santelli’s rant never happened. Very little government money actually went to the “losers”, to use Santelli’s charming sobriquet for those who could not meet their mortgage obligations. Instead, most of the funds eventually ended up safely gathered to the bosoms of the financial institutions that employed these frenzied Merc floor minions. Santelli’s rant failed to include the tens of billions of dollars his own network’s then-parent company, General Electric, received from the government. The average folks whom Santelli was so concerned might receive some of his hard-earned money, he should be comforted to know, are still struggling in an America of high unemployment and rampant foreclosure. Meanwhile, the profits of banks and Wall Street firms have rebounded nicely; compensation levels for their putatively blameless executives are at record highs.
Finally, Santelli was and remains a member in good standing of the media elite, another typical target...