When the Civil War broke out following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, it would have been reasonable to argue that the Republican Party was the “liberal” party and that the Democratic Party was the “conservative” political party.
In the subsequent 60 years, the Republican Party took on the general notion that less government intervention in economic affairs was preferable; this attitude persists today, although the party as a whole has moved rightward.
The Democratic Party began its social leftward movement under FDR, and excised itself of some of its racist demons in 1948 when Strom Thurmond formed the “Dixiecrats”. Over the next twenty years, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party completely swapped labels, with the democrats being the party of the left and the republicans being the party of the right. Between LBJ’s Great Society programs and Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the evolution of both parties became more or less what they are today, although the influence of the religious right on the GOP didn’t start to take hold until the 1980s.
In every presidential election year since (and including) 1968 that didn’t involve an incumbent democratic president seeking re-election, there has been at least one candidate seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination who energized the very liberal base of the party. In order, they were:
1968 — Eugene McCarthy
1972 — Edmund Muskie
1976 — Jerry Brown
1980 — N/A because Carter was the incumbent
1984 — Gary Hart
1988 — Dick Gephardt
1992 — Jerry Brown again (or at least Tsongas)
1996 — N/A because Clinton was the incumbent
2000 — Bill Bradley
2004 — Howard Dean
2008 — Dennis Kucinich
2012 — N/A because Obama was the incumbent
So I have a question for the hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters this year: what makes him different from all of the names above? I like him and a lot of what he has to say; don’t get me wrong. I just want to know what makes him different?