By Phil Rosenthal
It was part Howard Beale, the “mad as hell” movie newsman, and part Howard Jarvis, the anti-tax crusader for fiscal responsibility. CNBC editor Rick Santelli’s self-described rant on live TV from the trading floor of the CME Group helped bring this nation’s “tea party” movement to a boil.
Yet Santelli has been content to let the party go on without him.
“So many outlets … seemed to acknowledge that the movement began with those four minutes of airtime, about 8:35 (a.m.) Eastern on Feb. 19,” Santelli, 53, said Wednesday, two days ahead of the one-year anniversary of his “Squawk Box” call for a Chicago tea party “dumping … some derivative securities” into Lake Michigan. “We were a lightning rod, and it sparked a groundswell.
“Tea parties and these movements have been around, obviously. I think it did find a moment of clarity and maybe I helped bring that about, but it was not through any actions of mine I did post-Feb. 19. … I have no desire to be its leader, but I’m proud as hell … to have been a part of creating it.”
Still unchanged are Santelli’s core beliefs — the ones that made the former trader a multimedia sensation with broadband speed with his complaint the federal government was “promoting bad behavior” through mortgage bailouts, alluding to communist Cuba. Those tenets also include investing in what you know rather than speculating for a quick buck. That may explain why Santelli elected not to parlay the popular sentiment he so effectively tapped last year into lucrative new gigs as a political commentator or talk-radio host or a quickie book deal.
Rather than take the lead of what initially was dubbed “Rick’s Revolt,” he accepted his footnote in the movement and signed a multiyear renewal with CNBC, where he has been a full-time on-camera editor offering multiple daily dispatches since 1999.
He has received a few more varied speaking invitations than before and he’s recognized with greater frequency (especially in Chicago’s western suburbs, where he lives), he said. He also about eight weeks ago quit the smoking habit he picked up as an undergrad at the University of Illinois.
Otherwise, life for Santelli, a commentator once little known beyond the business crowd NBC Universal‘s cable financial network targets, is as it was. He still goes off on an occasional tear, but nothing has caught fire the same way. Of course, the White House has not questioned whether he knows what he’s talking about since then, either.
“In hindsight, those could have been the best four minutes of my life, but I think we all know what we’re good at in life,” Santelli said. “My passion’s what I did before Feb. 19, and what I’ve continued to do since then and hopefully will continue to do for many more years. I love the markets.”
The tea party movement has snowballed in the interim, a political force borne of distrust of what the government and its priorities have become, giving those who feel disenfranchised a sense of empowerment.
“It doesn’t need an explanation. It just needs a voting booth,” Santelli said. “I identify with the philosophy … that this country is about entrepreneurship, capitalism, individualism, speaking up, having an opinion.”
Nonpolitical fallout of Santelli’s railing against the feds included Comedy Central‘s Jon Stewart‘s methodical takedown of CNBC and analyst Jim Cramer for insufficiently challenging the business leaders whose missteps played a role in the economic downturn. Then a report on Playboy.com charging Santelli’s rant was a premeditated agitprop abruptly vanished without a trace, clarification, correction or explanation in the face of vehement denials.
“It’s very disappointing when you are the one person who knows the facts of a situation and you read something that is blatantly untrue,” Santelli said.
Santelli today is working on a book, just not one rushed out for the maximum payday. “If I write something, it’s not going to be about four minutes in my life,” he explained.
Much of what he struck a nerve with last year, he said, “rings very true to the conditions we find ourselves in” and yet he doesn’t feel he missed out by not trying to become the next Glenn Beck. He didn’t have to be steeped in the tea party movement. Blowing off steam was enough.