On February 19, 2009, Rick Santelli helped create a movement whose political impact has not yet been fully realized. The "Rant Heard 'Round the World," as it has become known, was a profound, if hardly isolated example of the power of conservative pundits to enact political change.
That power has grown as Americans have become more sympathetic to the economic conservative argument--both the moral/spiritual element of it, and the strictly economic one. The American people have by and large come full circle in a short time, and the pundits that retain the most influence in our society have changed accordingly.
Santelli is the perfect example, as he was certainly not the prominent name he is now before he let loose on the floor of the Chicago exchange. Michael Barone explains the essential appeal of the rant. He wrote Wednesday that it "was both an economic and a moral argument."
Economic, because subsidies to the improvident are an unproductive investment. We know now that very many of the beneficiaries of the administration's mortgage modification programs ended up in foreclosure anyway. Subsidies just prolonged the agony.
But it's also a moral argument. Taking money away from those who made prudent decisions and giving it to people who made imprudent decisions is casting society's vote for imprudence and self-indulgence. It mocks thrift and makes chumps out of those who pay their own way. We should, Santelli argued, "reward people that can carry the water rather than just drink the water."
Barone also notes the amazing speed at which tea party rallies were set up all over the nation. The country seemed predisposed to the sort of objections Santelli had raised.
"We're thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July," Santelli said. As it turned out, thousands of previously uninvolved citizens flocked to tea parties all over America even sooner, and now they're making their mark in primaries and special elections. New Deal historians can't explain that. Rick Santelli's rant does.
A year and a half later, the tea party continues unabated. It has played large roles in electoral contests throughout the year--most notably in the election of Sen. Scott Brown--and will assuredly continue to do so through November.
But more importantly, the spirit that made Santelli's rant is still alive and well, as evinced by the continued influence of the same message of fiscal and personal restraint--a mishmash of conservatism, libertarianism, and populism.
Earlier this week, Glenn Beck harnessed this same spirit when he promoted Friedrich Hayek's monumental work "The Road to Serfdom," on air. In about a day the book was number 1 on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble bestsellers lists. That's a far cry from starting a political movement, but it is a power unrivaled except perhaps by Oprah.
Beck's wildly successful promotion of Hayek's work demonstrates this point. Mediaite's Frances Martel reported today on the tremendous success of "The Road to Serfdom" since Beck promoted it on air.
Before Beck dedicated an entire program to it, The Road to Serfdom was doing slightly better in the bestseller rankings than the average mid-20th century political science book, coming in at #295 on the Amazon list and #3,254 rank on Barnes and Noble’s site. The “slightly better” is partly due to the fact that Tuesday’s appearance wasn’t the first on a Fox network for the book: libertarian Fox Business host John Stossel started wearing a ball and chain to work to advertise the book (or at least the catchphrase) long before it landed on Beck’s radar. Now it’s topping both lists, and shortly after the program was over, the book title soared to the top of Google’s top search list.
Beck and Santelli together demonstrated one fact: when conservative pundits speak, people listen. Why is that? Perhaps it has something to do with the message both Beck and Santelli offered: they both resonate with Americans in profound ways.
The influence enjoyed by the likes of Santelli and Beck serve to counter the consistent pro-Obama reporting from the legacy media. But that influence is also born of a similar national mood to the one that made the media so influential in the run-up to the 2008 election. Voters unhappy with the Republican Party and President Bush were predisposed to the liberal messages being thrown at them daily by the liberal press.
Now the nation's mood has turned against liberalism--and hence against the mainstream media--and conservative commentators, though fewer in number, have the ability to enact political change.