On April 15, 2009, a wave of populist protests swept across the country, pegged to tax day. John Boehner, who was then-House minority leader, was curious how they’d play out, and joined one in Bakersfield, California with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
What he saw there stunned him, and he immediately knew that if Republicans could harness that energy, he’d become speaker of the House. As he told his staff in his typically salty manner, “They are fucking furious and we’re going to win.”
Boehner was right on both points, and he vowed that day to make sure he channeled the rage he was witnessing into campaigns against Democrats the next fall. To ally with his base, he and then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) resolved to engage in all-out obstruction. It worked, until it worked too well, and consumed Boehner himself, as well as his deputy, former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Elected Democrats are now facing the same challenge, as a fired-up progressive base is marching far ahead of the party leadership. Democrats are scrambling to keep up.
This week, when progressive champions Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) voted in a Senate committee to approve the thoroughly unqualified Ben Carson to head the Housing and Urban Development Department, there was little criticism from established liberal organizations in Washington. But the grassroots lit up ― blasting them on Twitter, Facebook, in calls to their offices, and in countless emails to Huffington Post reporters, asking us what on earth their one-time heroes were doing.