For an example of how far leftward the Democratic Party has drifted in the last two decades, look no further than Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont emerging as the progressive icon who can capture the spirit of Elizabeth Warren in the body of a rumpled, crotchety old white man. Indeed, it's awfully telling that Hillary Clinton's main opponent for the Democratic nomination is a 73-year-old self-proclaimed socialist.
Make no mistake: Sanders is not a "liberal purist," as The New York Times referred to him in its Burlington dispatch—he's further left than that. He's never even been a Democrat, and for much of his congressional career was regarded as a radical curiosity. In his presidential kickoff, he called for a "political revolution" against the billionaire class, shades of Marxist rhetoric therein. His revolutionary instincts extend to foreign policy: For his honeymoon in 1988, he vacationed in the totalitarian Soviet Union, and the next year he traveled to Cuba in hopes of meeting Fidel Castro.
But it's Sanders, and not a more conventionally liberal candidate like former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who's capturing the enthusiasm of the progressive grassroots. Last week's Quinnipiac poll found him polling at 15 percent—good for a comfortable second place in the Democratic field, well ahead of Vice President Joe Biden (at 9 percent) and O'Malley (only at 1 percent). Among the most liberal Democrats, he polled at 28 percent, with Biden trailing him by 24 points in a hypothetical matchup.