The Incredible True Story of the Tea Party's Rise to Power
On the morning of Feb. 19, 2009, Rick Santelli, a commentator for CNBC, was feeling provoked by the Obama administration's $75 billion proposal to reduce the monthly payments of the 9 million homeowners then facing foreclosure. Santelli, at the Chicago Board of Trade, looked up to the camera zooming in on him and accused the government of "promoting bad behavior." He asked the traders: "How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage?" His call to arms, in the end, was the vague suggestion that "all you capitalists" have "a Chicago Tea Party," where, he promised, "we're going to be dumping in [to Lake Michigan] some derivative securities."
Santelli's rant, as it came to be known, like Paul Revere's ride or Pickett's charge, is almost baffling in how slight it really was relative to the influence it would project on history. But the timing was perfect: Fearmongering over the election of Barack Obama, who had been sworn in barely a month before, it was also a lightning bolt fired into a primordial soup of unprecedented economic anxiety. It turned out the revolution was televised, and it was about to go viral. Santelli's rant would launch the movement that dominates American politics today: the Tea Party.
Six years later, the Tea Party continues to score tremendous and wholly unexpected victories, ripping apart the leadership of the Republican House majority and hijacking the party's presidential nominating process. A look at the movement's origins and early leaders reveals it to be one of the most complex political phenomena in our history. Whatever America's future is to be in the 21st century, it will have to go through the Tea Party.