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Sanders’ outrage — his greatest strength and weakness

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Bernie Sanders has utter disdain for compromise on his resume.REUTERS

WALL STREET. Goldman Sachs. Greedy billionaires.

As usual, Bernie Sanders was fired up and seething with anger against all that and more during Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate. He's also mad about every broken system, from campaign finance to criminal justice.

The purity of Sanders' outrage is his greatest strength — and his greatest weakness.

To his credit, Sanders doesn't care about Hillary Clinton's "damn e-mails" or about Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions — at least not when he's on the debate stage. But imagine if Clinton displayed any Sanders-like rage. With a hot flash like that, she would have a "temperament'' problem.


Yet with Sanders, it's considered intellectual passion. And it gave him the upper hand during several key exchanges with Clinton, especially regarding regulation of the financial industry:

"I don't get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs," he sniped at her. And that can't be ignored. Clinton is vulnerable on her cozy relationship with Wall Street.

But what about when Sanders is not debating political rivals? How would that loud, staccato lecturing — underscored by dramatic finger-stabbing gestures — work in the Oval Office? When he's not at a rally filled with zealots, how would he get Congress to embrace his democratic socialist agenda? Working with Republican John McCain on veterans' affairs is not a true test of reaching across the aisle.

Those are real questions for Democrats whose doubts about Clinton could turn them into Bernie believers.

Donald Trump has a similar problem. But for all of Trump's nasty railings against Muslims and immigrants, he also has "deal-maker" on his resume. Sanders has utter disdain for compromise on his.

"This campaign is about a political revolution to not only elect the president but to transform this country," he declared. To the young and the left, that's a seductive siren call.


But what about the rest of the country? No matter what the polls currently say about Sanders' chances against Trump, it's hard to believe there's an electoral path to victory for his radicalized call for change, delivered in a Brooklyn accent. Then again, it also seems hard to believe Trump's platform, delivered in classic New York-ese, is a winner.

Asked about priorities for his first 100 days in office, Sanders cited health care for every man, woman, and child; raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and creating "millions of decent-paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure."

Ending middle-class decline, telling "the wealthiest people in this country that yes, they are going to start paying their fair share of taxes,'' is what he describes as "bringing America together." Yet, those are the very issues that tear this country apart.

As Clinton noted, it's hard to see how a Congress that voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act could be open to Sanders' "Medicare-for-all" prescription for change. Asked about a "Medicare-for-all, single-payer" program that Vermont walked away from, Sanders walked away from accountability, saying, "Let me just say that you might want to ask the governor of the state why he could not do it. I'm not the governor, I'm the senator from the state of Vermont."

Clinton strongly defended the Affordable Care Act — "one of the greatest accomplishments of President Obama, of the Democratic Party, and of our country." Tweaks can be made, she said, "but to tear it up and start over again, pushing out country back into that kind of contentious debate, I think is the wrong direction."


Clinton understands how hard it is to find the middle ground and bring about any change. Sanders despises incremental change. But he never explains how he can move a Fox News-infused country to his side of the argument.

Off the campaign trail, anger only gets you so far.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.