February 2009 was a pretty dark time for the conservative movement. The arguably most liberal president in the history of the United States has been sworn in to office just weeks early. The Congress had solid Democratic majorities in both chambers. And there were overtures that only way to save the nation from suffering the worst of a downtrodden economy was through an avalanche of costly legislation that would create huge budget deficits and ever-expanding bureaucracy.
But in the midst of that dark spell, CNBC's Rick Santelli lit the spark that ignited the conservative pushback. On CNBC's Feb. 19, 2009 "Squawk Box," Santelli called for a "tea party" in Lake Michigan to protest the idea the Obama administration was preparing to enact a massive housing bailout to reward people who took part in risky behavior by purchasing a home they couldn't afford.
According to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, now the chairman of FreedomWorks, often portrayed as a Tea Party villain by the American left, Santelli really is a father of the movement. Armey, along with Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, credit Santelli in an Aug. 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed and more extensively in their book "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto." And on CNBC's Aug. 19 "Squawk Box," Armey explained the importance of Santelli.
"The Santelli rant, which we talk about with great affection in our book, immediately went to the Internet and the Internet is so important to this movement, in terms of the baffled liberals who can't understand what's going on without a George Soros," Armey said. "It's the Internet, because that went viral. And everybody said - and that's where the term ‘tea party' comes in."
Armey explained that his organization served as a mechanism for the activists to coordinate the Tea Party movement.
"So what we found happening very soon is with people who had found us because they said, ‘I like that guy on TV. I want to have a tea party. How do you do it? Well, let's go see who does it.' That's how they found FreedomWorks and they asked us, ‘Give us some, you know, advice how to do this, how to put it together,' and so forth. And we developed this mentoring relationship."
Despite accusations of opportunism, Armey explained his organization predated the Santelli rant and the entire movement.
"We've been doing this since 1984, and we are the best there is at," he added.
Later in the program, Santelli responded Armey's appearance on "Squawk Box."
"[T]he rant was a year and a half ago," Santelli said. "The Tea Party movement is really moving along. It's pretty cool after a year and a half."