Where’s the Empathy? Obama’s Forclosure Plan and the “Chicago Tea Party” Movement

It is widely accepted that for the U.S. economy to recover, reducing the number of home foreclosures is essential. Last Wednesday, President Obama and his economic team unveiled a plan to do just that. Of course, the plan is expensive and has been a source of controversy, and rightly so. However, what struck me most about opposition to Obama’s housing plan was an obvious lack of empathy for those in danger of losing their homes.

GOP opposition to the plan was predictable, but Republicans were fortunate that someone else would vocalize their dissent for them this time. Obama’s plan to remedy the housing crisis was decried on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by Rick Santelli of CNBC. Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party” rant quickly turned viral, which largely absolved the GOP from having to make the argument for themselves.

If you haven’t seen his antics, you’ll find them here. Santelli totally reminded me of my one-year-old’s outrage whenever I give her three-year-old brother a cookie.

On the day following Santelli’s tantrum it became quite clear that his message found sympathizers. Talk radio listeners from both sides of the political spectrum kept the pundits’ phone lines busy. Their complaints mimicked those of the CNBC talking head (emphasis added):

The government is promoting bad behavior. Because we certainly don’t want to put stimulus forth and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check, and think that they ought to save it, and in terms of modifications… I’ll tell you what, I have an idea. You know, the new administration’s big on computers and technology– How about this, President and new administration? Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?

Aside from taking a many-shades-of-gray issue and presenting it in black & white, such a complaint betrays its maker as someone who is oblivious about the magnitude of the foreclosure crisis and totally misunderstands the Obama housing plan (.pdf). The plan’s final form will be determined by Congress. House Democrats are presently haggling over the details of the legislation, and the Senate is expected to address the matter in two weeks.

I eagerly await the debate, but in the mean time, allow me to get on my soapbox. Why is it so hard to believe that a significant segment of the estimated 9 million homeowners in danger of foreclosure aren’t “losers,” as Santelli so eloquently put it? Certainly, all of them weren’t speculators who got caught with their pants down when the bubble burst. Indeed, Time‘s David Von Drehle put it this way:

…it’s not just the subprime suckers going down. Trouble stretches beyond the province of liar loans, condo-flipping and the collateralized debt obligations that no one fully understands. A hard rain now falls on the just as well as the unjust. Consumers have stopped spending, factories have stopped operating, employers have stopped hiring — and home values continue to fall. For millions of people, the margin between getting by and getting buried is becoming as thin and as bloody as a razor blade.

I’d love to know what you think. Personally, I was disturbed by the complaints about the plan. Homeowners, ask yourselves this question the next time you hear someone complain that they’re, “having to foot the bill for someone else’s stupid mistake”. How long would you be able to pay your mortgage if you lost your job? David Von Drehle quoted a bankruptcy attorney, “I would bet a majority of people are only a few paychecks away from being in [his] office.” How can you not empathize?

As for Santelli, Mark Ames & Sasha Levine of Playboy.com (That’s right… I read it for the articles) reported that that Santelli was the trigger man for an “astroturf” campaign–an invented political grassroots effort–organized for the purpose of combating the Obama administration’s economic policy. Ames & Levine wrote:

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibillionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing think-tanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

Their post is a compelling piece of investigative journalism, and it has been burning up the web over the weekend. At least one of the sites implicated in the astroturfing campaign has already denied their involvement, but it will be very interesting to see if the story will gain traction in the mainstream media.

Image:  flickr.com user: respres by way of creativecommons.org


Progressive Panda
.5 years ago

Obama has at times been less radical and more beholden to the status quo than he should have been..that said it is quite clear that he has done far better than the Republican's would have if McCain had been elected.
Lets wind the clock back here..it was the Bush administration's crazy wars and support for casino capitalism that created this whole mess..allowing Alan Greenspan to preside over a "head in the sand " approach to possible danger's and weaknesses of the financial system ..with no questioning of the possible risks that the financial "boom" had brought with it.Since the beginning of this crash and under Obama's tenure in office the GOP has opposed Democrat bills which attempts to create any regulation of the financial system.
It is criminal and insane that the right wing try to blame people at the bottom for bringing about this crisis..Mortgage sellers for instance are slick..they are impressive..they are reassuring..it is what they are trained and primed to be.Most of us relied on these people to tell the truth and know their stuff..so if a lender says that you can afford this house then less economically aware people are going to trust them.
The problem now is that the banks and financial institutions have not reformed nearly enough..they may nosedive again and this time there will not be £9 trillion (sorry i'm English..but it would be around 13-14 trillion dollars )available to bail them out,people wouldn't buy it a second time..and such a dip may well h

Lynn Schenning
Lynn Schenning7 years ago

Amy P., at $1K/mo income you should be able to apply for assistance since the current poverty guideline for a household of 2 persons is $14570.

Dwight B.
Past Member 7 years ago


I would recommend that you reach out to others who can aid at this time. Many Church groups will take you in and aid you along best they can. Many have found refuge in the long and wide arms of Christians that do what they say for others to do. And in some situations maybe you will find that you are exactly what others have been looking for. Thus the providence of GOD at work----- Some have said that sometimes we need to spread our tents a little wider meaning get more connected and sometimes that lead ones out of the rut. And my firm conviction do not turn down anything that your city, county, state or federal government has to empower you for the RIGHTS to LIFE.

Malinda Misko
Past Member 7 years ago

I don't mind helping people that really need help. I mean people that lost their jobs, have severe health problems, etc. But...our capitalism has gotten crazy. Actors 40 mil a film- football players 65mil season- corporate management's huge salaries while laying off or freezing worker's pay :O. What about soldiers that barely make a living?

But besides some of the problems that really stick out, I just see so many people trying to keep up with the Jone's so to speak, and knew they were in over their heads. What were the banks thinking??? You don't need an MBA to know that's bad business, and they kept doing it. Now they want bail out.

I had a terrible car accident 10 years ago and nearly died, it was very bad. I was lucky that I had a great husband, he worked hard at a regular job. I never took a dime of disability, worked out a wheel chair as I was agricultural broker and could work from home. I am partially blind but doing okay after I determined it wouldn't kick me. We cut back on expenses until I could really get back into working full time. Tried to help our children with college, we made to much money for grants, but never made enough to put away much. They were left with loans instead.

We have now lost most of our 401ks and IRAs. We have health insurance where I work with a 5K deductible :O My husband works for a corporate, no raise in 5 years and no benefits. Our kids are hard working but barely able to get by. We are good citizens, where is our bail out???

Amy P.
Amy P.7 years ago

How about a bail out for those of us living on a very small disability, having to pay for health, dental & auto ins. which takes up more than half the amount we receive. There are taxes that have to be withheld so we don't get hit with a large tax bill. There is rent, food, utilities, etc. I can not apply for welfare, unemployment, a NICE home to live in, any kind of assistance since all the agencies I can ask assistance from feel that my income at $1,000/month is plenty for myself & one child. The rent is $675.00 in a slum. With all the other exp. above, who is going to help me? What if I have any emergencies! ALL POLITICIANS are the ones sitting at the country club with the bankers & ambassadors of other countries our govmnt pays off for FRIENDSHIP. I lost my home, my car was repossessed, I was living out of a 1984 Dodge Caravan & lost my children to my ex who took everything & sold it all off. The prop was let go at a less than loan value so I have a debt to pay for the balance of the loan. I have a debt to pay for the balance of my repossessed car. I have taxes for this year that I can not pay. I ask again, who is going to bail me out. All of you who still have your homes, no matter what your financial situation, & are faced with loosing your home, get real, you are NOT the only ones. Try being the guy who has lost it all! I am not killing people or stealing from others "who have more nice things" than I do to survive, whoever said that is out of t

Dan M.
Dan M.7 years ago


I pretty much agree with up except for the fact that we should automatically bail these people out. What's the problem with someone who can't afford where they're living, moving out and into something more affordable? It's not cruel, it's a necessity. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, greedy banks all had a role in creating this but we need to be realistic; it may not be possible to prop up a house of cards no matter how good one's intentions. I'm not sure the bank bailout is a good idea, let's not compound the problem.


Rita G.
Rita G.7 years ago

I'm a realtor - and deal every day with people who have lost their home to foreclosure. It's hearbreaking to see these people lose their homes. These are not investors or liars - these are hardworking people who've lost their job or they got caught up in a crazy mortgage. There was a host of people involved in this economic crisis - from the lenders all the way down to the realtor who pushed people into borrowing more than they were able to pay. I've seen it happen, the borrow wants to buy a house for $200,000 and the lender tells them oh you can borrow so much more than that. It wasn't just the borrower who borrowed too much - it was the lender who loaned them too much. If we're going to bail out the banks with my tax dollars - we better start bailing out the homeowners!

Dan M.
Dan M.7 years ago

A lot of these homes lost value because the value was never really there. Refinancing a loan doesn’t increase the home’s value, and with a bad economy it’s still going to be tough to make payments. Now might be the time for a lot of these people to just shed this millstone around their necks and get out. Renting instead of owning can be a great way to live the American Dream; I did it most of my adult life.


Dwight B.
Past Member 7 years ago


What is the core of the reasoning that some with more than they need and plenty to pass around get depressed even unto despair? When they hear that others are needy and in dire straights of life? And as unto today with all our problems in America many have lost their will to fight for the right – so depression seems to come in and fuel the fires of fears. Why?

The core of that reasoning is called wantonness. Those that suffer from that looks down on others as sub humans. They see them as stupid, dirty, nasty and less than ---- being a part of civilized mankind and far less than being worthy of being called a contributing part of the American Dream. So while in that mindset of wantonness they prefer depression instead of progression. But the plights of any civilization in history clearly prove that the less sometimes did more to build the empires. For on their backs and in their hands was the gusto to get to work and do the arduous tasks of constructing the infrastructure. And in times of war those other less other were called upon to send their sons and daughters to fight and die in wars. Many wars were not for the right reason but they still went --- some died and left behind the many that moaned and cried.

Dwight B.
Past Member 7 years ago


Yet suddenly their full-spent life ---- lay dying on a battlefield somewhere with their breath ebbing out, and then in a flash all their hopes suddenly slipped away. And for a short time their name was called out as a hero ---- one of valor ----- yet for the ones left behind they still remained a class not accepted by those filled with wantonness.

Therefore the question about this TODAY, Who are We? ---- Do we like depression or would progression be better for our each individual part in our sane, sanguine and at this time our civil society?