Santelli: If They Write on My Tombstone I Was the Catalyst of the Tea Party, They Could Bury Me with a Smile

November 2nd, 2010 9:30 PM

For the second day in a row, CNBC is embracing Rick Santelli for being the father of the Tea Party movement, when just a year ago the network seemed to be shying away from it.

On Nov. 2, the day of the 2010 midterm elections, CNBC’s “Power Lunch” ran an in-depth segment about Santelli and his thoughts on the movement he is credited with starting. According to the long-time fixture at the ChicagoMercantile Exchange, he described his famous Feb. 19 call to action as a wake-up alarm.

“I see it as an alarm clock – I think my rant woke people up,” Santelli said. “And I think many people in this country had similar anxieties regarding the direction of bailouts and the direction of trying to fix something that was broken for many years that caught up with us.”

He explained that at the time, the idea to capture his enthusiasm was where the “Tea Party” moniker originated.

“I felt my heart beating when it was over but the last thing I really remember was how could I encapsulate the energy of what had just happened and that's why the whole Tea Party part came,” he continued.

But then he explained what he thought the “Tea Party” was – not political party, but a philosophy and one that’s he is proud of being the catalyst in forming.

“Truly, anybody who knows me, and there's thousands of people in the exchange and in the city that I've rubbed shoulders with since 1979 when I first started working at the CME – I do my homework,” Santelli explained. “I think the Tea Party is a philosophy. It's a philosophy that, ‘We, the People’ – it's about us, that if the Americans want to do something, they have the power to try to put leaders in place to carry out whatever their notions are. It's the land of opportunity, not the land of entitlement and I think all of that is at the foundation of what caused the Tea Party movement to gain such traction. It's so de-centralized. It doesn't really have an official leader. It somebody wanted to talk to the tea party, they could talk to a faction here, a faction there, a group there, a group here. There isn't one person like there is for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or independents or the Green Party. And I think in many ways that's a big strength actually. Let's put it this way, if they write on my tombstone that I was the catalyst in the forming of the Tea Party movement, they could bury me with a smile.”

On Election Day 2010, on the “Power Lunch” panel asked Santelli to reflect on the movement he is credited for. He explained that his call to action isn’t only shown in today’s results but the earlier primaries as well.

“I think it still blows my mind to be quite honest,” he said. “In less than two years, something so nationwide has not only mobilized, it's already made a difference even in the primaries leading up to the elections. I think it's a great testament to the human spirit, the American spirit that they can rise and be heard. I think it's terrific.”

As for the midterm elections, Santelli said the results will not just be a show of disapproval of current policy, but a sign that people want these policy initiatives to stop.

“I think that this election isn't a referendum on policy,” Santelli said. “I think it's a restraining order. So yes, I do think that this will not only survive the midterms, I think it's going to be an integral part of how we pay for some of the debt we've already issued and how we deal with unemployment and all the issues in front of us in a way that isn't a budget buster.”

And Santelli explained that some of the Tea Party candidates may not seem as polished as many of their detractors think they should be and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“This is why I think -- listen, there's a lot of people that are associated with the Tea Party movement that don't measure up to the type of mold that historically politicians measured up to,” Santelli said. “And I don't look at that as a negative for late night talk shows to have fun. I think it's a terrific positive. Mr. Smith is going to go to Washington – he isn't polished, maybe doesn't have a Ph.D. But does that mean he doesn't have something to bring to the table? No.”

Has Santelli participated in any of these Tea Party movement rallies? Not in any leadership role, he said.

“With none of them,” he said. “I did show up at a couple that were literally in my backyard. The wife and I put on hats and glasses and the kids, and it was just a neat thing to see and just melt into the crowd. It was really, I thought, an education.”