While she’s saying all this stuff, Santelli, who is one of the fathers of the Tea Party movement, is shaking his head furiously, video-scoffing at everything she’s saying. When he finally does get a chance to speak, this is what he says:
Here’s my problem with this. It takes two to tango. You can’t cheat an honest man.
You can’t cheat an honest man? What the fuck does that mean?
This whole scene sort of encapsulates what’s wrong with the Tea Party movement. The movement, and let’s admit this, has some of its roots in legitimate grievances about government waste and some not-entirely-inaccurate observations about what’s left of the American welfare state. Of course what resonates most with the suburban whites who mostly make up the Tea Party are stories about minorities and immigrants using section 8 housing, food stamps, Medicaid, TANF and other programs, with the Obama stimulus being for them a symbol of this ongoing government largess. The heat of the Tea Party movement comes from the racial frustrations that actually exist out there, in the real world outside New York and LA, as urban expansion and immigration increasingly throw white and nonwhite communities together, with white Tea Party types more and more often blowing gaskets over increased crime rates, declining school standards, and mislaid or wasted tax revenue.
That this perception that minorities are the prime or sole consumers of government entitlement programs is absurdly inaccurate — white people, for instance, are overwhelmingly the largest nonelderly recipients of Medicaid, making up 42.8% of the program’s rolls nationwide, compared to 22.2% for blacks and 27.9% for Hispanics — is beside the point. The point is that the Tea Party is built largely on this narrative of “personal responsibility,” where the central demons are unwed black and Hispanic mothers and absent black and Hispanic fathers, who are, let’s face it, not uncommon characters in the American melodrama.
Which is another subject for another time, but let’s just say this: the Tea Party movement contains a lot of people who are far more impressed by what they can see with their own eyes than with what, for instance, they read about. I’ve been to Tea Party events where global warming was dismissed by speakers who, without irony, pointed to the fact that there was snow on the ground outside. And while very few people have ever actually seen a CDO manager or a Countrywide executive, or were aware if it when they saw them, the Tea Party folks sure as hell have seen who their neighbors in foreclosure are.
The Fox/CNBC types have very cannily latched on this narrative to rewrite the history of the financial crisis. They know that Tea Partiers will go for any narrative that puts blame on poor (and especially poor minority) homeowners, because the idea of poor blacks and Hispanics borrowing beyond their means fits seamlessly with their world view. But this is a situation where poor minorities were really incidental to a much larger fraud scheme that culminated in a welfare program — the bank bailouts — that dwarfs the entire “entitlement” infrastructure. But the millions of people who are actually in the Tea Party movement seem to have absolutely no idea that their so-called leaders, the Santellis of their world, are shilling for tax cheats and crooks and welfare bums of the sort they would despise (perhaps even more than their black and Hispanic neighbors), if they could actually see them.