Author John H. O’Hara traces the tea party movement back to the day CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli made his now famous call to arms against more irresponsible bailouts of failed companies and mortgage holders.
“Rick Santelli got up on the floor at the Chicago Board of Trade and started talking about the moral hazard of the government bailing out irresponsible corporations and individuals," O'Hara recalls.
“It really became a rallying cry for folks at the grassroots level to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going take this anymore. We are going to stand up and make our voices heard,’” he adds.
Editor's Note: See the John O'Hara Newsmax.TV interview below
O'Hara, author of “A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes,” says that moment on Feb. 19, 2009 began it all.
One of the catch-phrases used that fateful day by Santelli occupies the first page in O’Hara’s tome: “The government is promoting bad behavior. This is America! How many of you want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? President Obama, are you listening?”
According to O’Hara’s book introduction, the specific legislation that inspired Santelli’s impassioned plea was the president’s Home Affordability Plan, which was unveiled just the day before.
What did the plan promise? To prevent foreclosures. How? By transferring massive sums of money from taxpayers to borrowers who just might have bought houses too expensive for their own budgets.
Taking his inspiration from the remarkable rant in Chicago that got folks on their feet and cheering, O’Hara and an associate planned and participated in the first American tea party. It was a protest in that same month of February out in front of the White House. “It just took off from there,” he reveals to Newsmax.TV.
And did it ever take off.
On tax day in April 2009, hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in more than 800 cities to voice their opposition to out of control spending at all levels of government. In August, citizens in every state of the union made their voices heard at congressional town hall meetings. On September 12, 2009 over half a million people marched on the U.S. Capitol.
“A New American Tea Party” explains how these protests evolved and were organized, and distills the results -- including the often bizarre media backlashes of the movement, the philosophy behind the movement, and the road ahead. Along the way, the author details the enormous costs of bailouts and argues that excessive government interference today is philosophically incompatible with the founding principles of our nation and simply unsustainable for future generations.
“From the very beginning, the media tended to marginalize the tea party. They called it small. They didn’t want to cover it,” O’Hara explains.
“I think many folks in the media, as we know, spent the better part of the election cycle rooting for Barack Obama -- to try to get him in office. They have a lot invested in this, and covering a very popular multimillion person grassroots upsurge that’s saying ‘stop spending and get back to basics’ -- it is problematic for them.”
The name-calling began with the activists being dismissed as “teabaggers.”
The author opines that the tactic will backfire. “Americans are sick of partisanship and bickering and name-calling, and it's odd they do that… most people want serious solutions to get this country back on the path to prosperity.”
Except for Fox News, the media virtually ignored the early protests.
“It doesn't fit with their world view,” the author says. “They think that America loves Barack Obama and loves big spending and loves big government… When thousands of people showed up in cities around the country on tax day last year, that doesn't jive with their world view and the message that they're trying to portray in their so-called news coverage.”
The author recounts an example of the media actually working to undermine the events.
“CNN sent a reporter to the tax tea party here in Chicago that I organized last year. She went around berating some of the attendees and was very hostile -- not covering it, but actually sort of counter- protesting it with a video camera. It was very strange.”
But these first-time grassroots activists are not about to be discouraged notes O’Hara. “I think that one of the most amazing things about this movement is that it really is a civic reawakening. It's not just about the ideas -- although that's important – it is a resurgence of the ideas of limited government and fiscal responsibility, which is a fantastic thing. Also is the fact that more and more people are getting involved in the political process. Many people who never attended a protest, never called their elected officials, people who had never written a letter to the editor before are starting to do that -- even running for office themselves.”
“This is not about hurting or helping Republicans or Democrats,” the author says. “It’s about incumbents, Republicans, Democrats, independents and everyone in between listening to the concerns of the tea party movement and the broader concerns that it really represents -- that the citizens have across the country.”
O’Hara has an opinion about the greatest accomplishment of the tea party movement so far. “It’s really turning the tables on the healthcare reform debate,” he says. “The president took office thinking he would usher in his agenda with ease, and folks stood up and said ‘no.’ It really put the proponents of a government-run healthcare on their heels, which is a very healthy part of democracy. It’s really that civic reawakening that I talk about in the book.”
The movement has all kinds of concerns and issues.
“One of the worse things -- I detailed in the book -- that is a perfect example of misguided government meddling in the market is the cash-for-clunkers. Folks are given basically an incentive to get rid of a perfectly good working car and go get a new car under the guise of stimulating auto sales… The real effects of it in the marketplace were not at all what people expected.
“People wound up buying cars before they were going to buy them anyway … It didn’t really spur auto sales, but it did amount to a massive redistribution of wealth to people who could afford to buy a car.”
The three bailouts for AIG are a third rail issue for the tea party says O’Hara. “Most Americans, I think, gave politicians a little leeway early on when the bailouts started under Bush. When Santelli got up and spoke, it really sparked something in Americans – it is principally wrong to bailout companies like AIG, and practically it's just not working.”
“If you think about it, the last stimulus package was supposed to keep unemployment below 8 percent; it’s now over 10. So principally and practically, people are against it -- and realizing that, we need to let the businesses fail … It's not up to the taxpayers to bail out failed corporations and more and more people are realizing that.”
The so called cap-and-trade legislation is another hot ticket with the tea party. In his book, O’Hara notes that Obama himself admitted the legislation would cause energy bills to skyrocket.
“That’s one of the things about the tea party movement,” the author explains, “it started with the bailouts and refocused in the August town hall protest last year on government intervention into healthcare. And cap-and-trade is also a significant concern -- as can be seen with the recent Climategate scandal. What a lot of us have been saying for a long time is that this is a nonexistent problem; that we don't need to be spending billions of taxpayer dollars on to allegedly fix.
“I think most people realize that the science is not settled on this issue, and the fact is that the so-called consensus -- that there's catastrophic man-made global warming -- is a manufactured consensus… It's not true to the scientific process of inquiry in an open debate. People realize that…”
“What part of ‘no’ do you think these politicians aren't getting?” queries Newsmax.
“They see the polls; they get the calls from their constituents… They just don't seem to care, and I think you see rather explicitly from Congress that they're willing to lose seats to get so-called Obamacare through, which is very intriguing that they have that mindset -- that constituents’ concerns just don’t matter…”
The Democrats are so set on their purpose, O’Hara fears, that they are mulling invoking the so-called nuclear option – the parliamentary procedure of reconciliation.
O’Hara is a regular commentator on national radio and television shows, including several on the Fox News Channel. He is vice president of external relations at Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization that supports free-market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives. He also served in the administration of Pres. George W. Bush under Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
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