Is Rick Santelli the Father of the Tea Party? ‘If that’s what they put on my tombstone, they can bury me with a smile.’

By Alissa Krinsky 

“The markets are the world’s greatest Rubik’s cube,” says CNBC’s Rick Santelli. “And I love solving puzzles.”

In fact, as he provides live updates each weekday from the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) group trading floor, Santelli feels his mission is to put the pieces together, helping viewers figure out where the markets — and the nation’s economy — are headed.

“These are important topics that are going to affect every man, woman, and child in the world,” Santelli tells TVNewser during an interview between live shots, “and I want to do my best job to portray it as I see it in an honest, objective fashion.”

A “Chicago guy that started out as a runner” in 1979 for Shearson, Santelli “worked my way through” as a trader and financial services executive before — by fluke — being asked to provide television commentary.

Santelli discovered he liked TV. He started making guest appearances on CNBC in 1994, joining the network full-time in 1999.

Regular viewers soon came to realize Santelli isn’t exactly shy about debating the news of the day. He’ll mix it up with fellow CNBCers Steve Liesman and Dennis Kneale, among others.

Santelli calls his most heated moments “passionate outbursts, but ‘rants’ is okay [too], I really don’t have a problem with it!”

His most famous rant — against the administration’s Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan — came in February of last year. The Rant-Heard-‘Round-the-World catapulted Santelli into the national consciousness, even drawing a rebuke from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Nearly a year and a half later, The Rant remains both popular and misunderstood, Santelli says. He wants to set the record straight.

• Rick Santelli slide show, after the jump…

For starters, Santelli says all his outbursts (such as last month’s “Stop Spending!” plea) are spontaneous. “There’s nothing faux about it.”

Another misconception? He’s not “some mega-rich guy. Listen, I work hard, and I haven’t done badly in life. But I pretty much came from very modest roots…I go home on my train, I cut my own grass…I don’t have anything against people that are more elite, but it’s just not who I am or what I’m about.”

And no matter how loud the debate, Santelli has “great respect” for his fellow CNBCers. “It’s not personal…I don’t do this for any other reason that I naturally have a passion when I find topics that are interesting. It’s purely philosophical differences.”

But despite his passionate beliefs, Santelli doesn’t “see politics in my future.” A self-described Independent, though, he’s pleased that after his ’09 rant, some call him the Father of the Tea Party. “Look, if that’s what they put on my tombstone, they can bury me with a smile.

“…This grassroots movement of the Tea Party, to me, is as American as it gets. And whether you are left, center, or right, to me it’s not about politics. It’s about, in this country, we’re not afraid to speak up.”

After The Rant, Santelli received book offers. He is writing one, but at his leisure and not for immediate publication. After all, he already has lots to do outside work — spending time with his wife and daughters, painting, and restoring old cars.

As for his professional future, Santelli also has received TV offers, declining to specify whether Fox Business has reached out. “I’m very happy at CNBC,” he says, having renewed with the network last fall in a three-year deal.

“It’s the passion, it’s the movement — there’s a lot of moving parts,” he says about covering the markets. “And spontaneous TV, and spontaneous debates…I don’t know that there’s anyone that enjoys their job more than I do.”

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.