He’s been called a founding father of the tea party movement, a Paul Revere figure responsible for rallying millions of Americans frustrated with runaway government spending.
But CNBC’s Rick Santelli says he’s just an ordinary Chicagoan who never really intended to start a revolution when, during a show last February, he called on viewers to launch a modern-day tea party. A year later, the tea party movement that resulted has become one of the most significant factors in American politics.
“That was spontaneous, absolutely,” Santelli said of his famed Feb. 19 appearance in an interview with The Daily Caller. “It was also from the heart, and I had no idea of the direction it would take or the response it would get.” Santelli said at the time that the Founding Fathers would be appalled by the expansion of government. If anything, his view has hardened during the last 12 months. “I think it’s the case times the power of 10 today.”
Santelli says he hasn’t “seen any empirical evidence that this money is finding any type of return that anybody who implemented these programs should be proud of. We spent just boatloads, boatloads of money.” Now “a year has elapsed and we see the post mortem on some of these programs are not very impressive.”
Yet, Santelli, who still goes to work every day on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, has not become an activist. He plays virtually no direct role in the political movement he helped to spawn. “The requests are almost unending,” he says. “And I feel bad to a certain extent because, even though I may share many of the philosophies of the tea party and many believe I was instrumental in being a catalyst for its formation, I also think that considering what I do for a living — and I take it very seriously — I try to avoid political ties… I’m pretty darn happy with my day job. At the end of the day, the markets are my passion.”
From the sidelines, though, he watches carefully. “Most of the mainstream coverage of most of the crisis — the economy, the road to get here, and the Tea Party — has been very much lacking,” he says. “The fact that many traditional media avenues that have ignored or belittled the tea parties all of a sudden seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time trying to understand and explain them, I think that alone gives credibility to their girth,” he said.
Asked about the guys on the trading floor in Chicago — the group standing behind him growling in agreement as he first called for a tea party — Santelli says “they continue to be very disenchanted” with Obama’s economic policies. He points out that they’re not traditional Republicans. “Most of the people on that shot were clerical in nature so it wasn’t by any stretch an elitist crowd.”
But it was a frustrated crowd. “Many of us, of course, have children, and I think that the type of country that we are going to leave in our wake by rewarding bad behavior…is not a better handoff to the next generation and generation after that. I think there comes a time when enough is enough.”
Rick Santelli isn’t a politician, and seems to have no desire to become one. For now he’s content with his place in American political history. “In my life, a very small amount of minutes made a difference, and I just find that to be one of the things that makes our country great and makes me very proud that I was a part of that,” he says.
Watch Santelli’s now-famous Feb. 19 remarks on CNBC: