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'Boiling Mad': A Tea Party Origin Story

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'Boiling Mad': A Tea Party Origin Story

'Boiling Mad': A Tea Party Origin Story

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Talk about good timing, New York Times reporter Kate Zernike has a book out this week about the rise of the Tea Party Movement. It's called "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America." In researching the book, Zernike found that the movement is not driven by big rallies and older white men, as polls suggest. Instead, it's been built out of small community meetings, not unlike what President Obama did in 2008.

Ms. KATE ZERNIKE (Author, "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America"): The movement was really started by a group of young tech-savvy libertarian types who, you know, may have voted for Ron Paul, the Libertarian candidate - or Republican candidate for president in 2008. There are a lot of suburban moms out there organizing. There are a lot of women involved. There's one particular conference call every week. It's 2,700 people across the country, and the majority of those people on that call are women.

GREENE: And you actually - when you explored the origins of this movement, looking back to early 2009, and even earlier in some respects, but just after President Obama takes office, you talk about a woman who you say represents how this movement was really coalescing early on. And her name is Keli Carender?

Ms. ZERNIKE: Carender, yeah. At the time, she's 29 years old. She lives in Seattle. She's half-Mexican. She has a pierced nose. She does improv theater on weekends and during the week, teaches basic math to welfare recipients. She's engaged to an Obama voter. But she herself is sort of very ideological, very idealistic, and she's incredibly frustrated. She really believes in the free market, believes in small government and is very frustrated by the stimulus package that was being proposed, very frustrated about the bailouts, frustrated by the collapse of the economy. And has (unintelligible) some conservative economists. So her fiance, who's this Obama voter, says to her start a blog, do something, get your energy out. So she starts her blog, and she calls herself Liberty Belle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ZERNIKE: But the blog turns out not to be enough. It doesn't satisfy. So she says, you know, I got to have a protest. And because she lives in Seattle, which is not exactly a red-blooded bastion...

GREENE: Right.

Ms. ZERNIKE: ...or red state, she's watched a lot of the anti-war protesters in Seattle and how they organize. And so she says, you know, they did it. I can do it. So she calls up a conservative radio host, and she emails Michelle Malkin, the conservative blogger. And they both give her a plug for her protest, and she gets about 200 people there. You know, she thinks she's going to get her parents and maybe some friends from Young Republicans...

GREENE: So not huge but not tiny.

Ms. ZERNIKE: Not huge but not tiny. And she really is sort of the germ of this movement. And about a week and a half later is when what everyone calls The Rant happens. And Rick Santelli, who's a CNBC reporter, is on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and he begins ranting about President Obama's proposal to bail out people with - who are underwater in their homes, who can't afford their mortgages.

GREENE: You know, it's interesting. I was going to ask you about that. So we actually have that tape queued up right here.

Ms. ZERNIKE: Oh, fabulous.

GREENE: So let's hear a little bit of Rick Santelli right now.

Mr. RICK SANTELLI (On-air Editor, CNBC Business News): This is America. How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise their hands.

(Soundbite of booing)

Mr. SANTELLI: How about we all hey, President Obama, are you listening?

GREENE: And so that's Rick Santelli, a CNBC financial news commentator. And he ends his rant with this.

Unidentified Man: You want to...

Mr. SANTELLI: We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SANTELLI: All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm going to start organizing it.

(Soundbite of whistling)

GREENE: So, Kate, why was he so angry, and what was he tapping into at that moment.

Ms. ZERNIKE: Hot coffee that morning.

GREENE: And we should say this was February 2009.

Ms. ZERNIKE: Right.

GREENE: What is he really tapping?

Ms. ZERNIKE: He's tapping this vein of we're spending more money than we have. The economy is in collapse. We've bailed out the banks, and they were the ones who got us into trouble in the first place. Now, we're going to bail out people who bought houses they couldn't afford, and it's sort of this, you know, real kitchen-table economics sense of, like, how are we going to afford all of this, and what is going on?

So as soon as he does this rant, a bunch of young conservatives who were all on Twitter start tweeting about this. And they agree that they're going to have a conference call that night to plan tea parties. And so there about 50 of them on a conference call that night. They have a conference call every night that week, and a week later, there are tea parties in somewhere between 30 and 50 cities across the country.

GREENE: How cohesive is this movement looking down the road? I mean, you sat down with a lot of these groups who feel a connection to the Tea Party all over the country. You found a whole range of agendas, ideology, positions on social issues. How do they stick together?

Ms. ZERNIKE: Yeah, you know, it's a very interesting question. One thing that people often get wrong about the Tea Party is they assume that this is just the old Christian conservatives under a different name. And that these are people who don't want gay marriage and don't believe in abortion rights, and they're not. I mean, a lot of these people are socially conservative themselves, but they don't want to talk about social issues. They think the Republican Party went wrong in spending so much time in talking about this - if you remember the debate about Terri Schiavo, the woman in Florida, and whether we should keep her alive.

GREENE: Right.

Ms. ZERNIKE: But that said, there are a lot of people in the movement who are brought out by frustration, who are socially conservative, who do want to talk about President Obama's birth certificate.

You know, for instance at this National Tea Party Convention in February of 2010, there was a whole speech from someone who, you know, said that his dream was that in every state in America, there would be a gigantic billboard saying where's the birth certificate? Show us the birth certificate.

So, I mean, there are a lot of competing interests here. It's really hard to sort of put a label or put a face on the Tea Party. You kind of have to get into the weeds a little bit and see all these varieties of experiences.

GREENE: Do you foresee a time, as we look forward to November, when we might see, you know, an establishment Republican leader, a Tea Party leader, sort of hold a summit in some backyard some way, shake hands and say, like, let's go into November together? I mean, can the Republican Party reconcile with this movement?

Ms. ZERNIKE: Oh, I think so. I mean, I think there are going to be real growing pains here. The Republicans started off on the wrong foot with the Tea Party. They didn't really know what to make of them. The Tea Party is incredibly suspicious of anything that reeks of the establishment.

But that said, their goal is really to get rid of the Democratic majority. The Tea Partiers have become incredibly pragmatic over the last year and a half, since they first lost their first election. So they know that what they need to do is bond together to get rid of the Democrats.

One of my favorite quotes in the book is this young mother in Philadelphia, and she says: To get rid of the Democrats, we have to get rid of the Republicans.

That's sort of their long-term goal is get rid of the Republicans who they don't see as sufficiently conservative, sufficiently fiscally conservative. But in these midterms, they understand the first best goal is to get rid of the Democratic leadership.

GREENE: Kate Zernike, New York Times reporter. Your new book is "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America." You're going to be writing a lot of epilogues to this book.

Ms. ZERNIKE: Yes, we hope so.

GREENE: Thank you so much for being with us.

Ms. ZERNIKE: Sure. Thanks, David.

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