The far right had been trying to spark some sort of populist movement for decades. Finally in February 2009, as the public began to comprehend the magnitude of the financial crisis that had been killing an average of half a million jobs a week for months, a dry weed caught fire.
CNBC’s Rick Santelli spoke for millions of Americans when he expressed his frustration with the bailouts being rained down from Washington D.C. But his target on February 19, 2009 wasn’t the big banks or the auto industry. Santelli blasted the real villains of the financial crisis, at least for the right — the millions of Americans who were losing their homes:
How about this, [Mr.] President and new administration — Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages, or would we like to, at least, buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water, instead of drink[ing] the water.
Within days, the “Tea Party” Santelli had called for in his epic “rant” became a reality, with Fox News literally advertising, then broadcasting events all over the country. And resentful Americans gathered in person and online to blast the first African-American president of the United States for not immediately fixing the enormous problems he had inherited.
A Republican Party with a brand that had been in critical condition after eight years of Bush and Cheney suddenly had a new way to sell itself to millions of Americans facing sudden uncertainty and turmoil unlike anything America had faced en masse since the Great Depression. The Tea Party gave the right new authority to suggest solutions. However, nearly every solution they suggested — including less government regulation, lower taxes and less government spending — had either been a cause of the crisis or effectively strangled any chance of a real recovery.
Five years later, the Tea Party is less popular than it ever has been, and less popular than the Republican Party itself, which has lower favorable ratings now than in 2009. But the damage the movement did to our economy lives on. Here are five ways the Tea Party stopped the economic recovery.