Everyone who watches CNBC on a regular basis knows that Rick Santelli -- the network's excitable boy at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange -- is a voluble sort, not quite Jim-Cramer-crazy, but a screamer, with opinions as big as his oversized lungs. But Santelli really outdid himself yesterday morning with a market report that turned into the strangest populist rant since -- well, possibly ever. His target? Not the malefactors of great wealth but ... folks who can't pay their mortgages.
Ridiculing Obama's mortgage bailout plan, Santelli wondered what would happen if the White House "put up a website to have people vote ... to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages?" As the traders behind him shouted in approval, he went into full rabble-rousing mode: "How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand! President Obama, are you listening?"
You can watch the whole thing here:
This being the age of YouTube and all, the video spread across the internet like an Ayn Randian "Hamster on a Piano."
Reactions largely folllowed party lines. The video was highlighted in SCREAMING RED ALL-CAPS HEADLINES on the Drudge Report, and conservative bloggers urged everyone they knew to send it along to their friends. "This is the best rant I’ve heard in a long time!" The Lonely Conservative enthused:"This may clue in the clueless as to why the stock market tanks every time The One opens his pie hole."
Gawker, meanwhile, wondered: "how the hell did we come a point where a former financial executive speaking from a trading floor pretends to be a raging populist little man fighting against the powers-that-be?"
Over on the Democratic Underground message boards, Santelli's detractors were a little more blunt, declaring him a "Wallstreet Punk wagging his fingers at Mainstreet schmoes after [expletive deleted] like him caused the present situation and were the first ones running to Congress for help."
The most thoughtful response? Andrew Leonard's on Salon. While acknowledging that "Santelli's critical perspective does not lack for support from more serious minds," Leonard notes drily that there's no "good data that can tell us what percentage of those 8 million families [in danger of foreclosing] fall into the class of irresponsible greedy losers. ... [I]t is possible that everyone underwater on their mortgage is a jerk. But I'd also guess that some significant fraction of that number includes people who scrimped and saved and perhaps unwisely took advantage of the new mortgage products offered by lenders to get into a home in a market where everything was over-priced.
"Just because someone is a 'loser' doesn't mean that we shouldn't feel an obligation or responsibility to help them out," he concluded. "We are better than that."
I couldn't have said -- or shouted -- that better myself.