UPDATE: Rick Santelli, on G. Gordon Liddy's radio show Monday, suggested that the White House was threatening him and that his kids were unnerved. Via ThinkProgress:
SANTELLI: He started that press conference saying, "I don't know where he lives, I don't know where his house is." This is the Press Secretary of the White House. Is that the kind of thing we want? Is that --
LIDDY: It's a veiled threat.
SANTELLI: It really is. [...] I don't really want to be a spokesman, but I really am very proud of a) the response I'm getting, which is overwhelmingly positive, and b) discourse, that is debate. That if the pressure and the heat I'm taking from the White House - the fact my kids are nervous to go to school - I can take that, okay.
Santelli made similar comments on Mike Gallagher's radio show. In saying that he did not know where Santelli lived, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was pretty clearly suggesting the CNBC reporter was out of touch with ordinary Americans, not threatening him.
* * * * *
Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter who went into a certifiable rant against the Obama housing plan Thursday, found himself in the White House bullseye 24-hours later: the object of scorn and humorous derision from the president's press secretary Robert Gibbs.
"I'm not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives," Gibbs said during the daily briefing. "But the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgage, stay in their jobs, pay their bills to send their kids to school, and to hope that they don't get sick or somebody they care for gets sick that sends them into bankruptcy. I think we left a few months ago the adage that if it was good for a derivatives trader, that it was good for main street. I think the verdict is in on that."
Ouch. But from there it got almost more personal. Gibbs picked up a hard copy of the housing plan from the briefing room lectern and implored Santelli to "download it, hit print and begin to read it." Gibbs added: "I would be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee, decaf." The press in the room laughed.
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The substance of the debate wasn't avoided either. Gibbs, striking an defiant and occasionally emotional tone, insisted that nothing in the president's proposal to keep 9 million people in their homes would help speculators, people trying to flip houses, or those who bought a house they knew they couldn't afford. He added that preventing foreclosures would be beneficial even to those whose mortgage payments were stable, keeping neighborhood property values from spiraling downwards.
Gibbs expanded his critique to cable news in general, saying that the campaign coverage was completely out of touch:
"If I hadn't worked on the campaign but simply watch the cable news scorekeeping of the campaign, we lost virtually every day of the race," he said. "If I would have just watched cable TV, I long would have crawled into a hole and given up this whole prospect of changing the country."
The politics of the exchange are as telling as the substance. There are plenty of Republicans who have aired critiques of the Obama housing plan. And the president's communications staff has long insisted that they neither care nor respond to the punditry of people on cable news. So why respond to Santelli? Maybe Gibbs was worked up by the CNBC reporter's widely-aired rant, or maybe it was something more calculated. There are few people less popular today than derivative traders or Wall Street loud-mouths. Choosing Santelli to be the poster child of the opposition is smart politics for the Obama White House, just like making Rush Limbaugh the face of the anti-stimulus movement was during that debate.