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From 'Bernie Who?' to 'Bernie Why Not?'

Bernie Sanders is challenging the Old Order. Is that the secret of his appeal?

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks Saturday during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. CHARLIE NEIBERGALL / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks Saturday during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. CHARLIE NEIBERGALL / ASSOCIATED PRESSRead more

I SEE BERNIE SANDERS and I hear Eugene McCarthy.

The "issue" for "Clean, Gene" was the Vietnam War.

The "issue" for the Sand Man centers on an economy he sees (with justification) as unfair and undemocratic.

Two things they had in common: passion and authenticity. Bernie is as authentic as his Brooklyn accent.

Something's pushing him. Age? Destiny? Restless masses looking for the leader - messiah or pied piper - to bring them to an America with liberty and justice for all?

McCarthy was buoyed by the youth (as are Sanders and Rand Paul) when he challenged sitting President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, a race Johnson quit. Then came the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the nomination going to Hubert H. Humphrey and the November election to Richard M. Nixon.

Like McCarthy, Sanders is an insurgent taking an ax to the Old Order, which will force Hillary Clinton leftward during the primaries. If she goes too far, she could be Humphrey.

But for her to lose the November 2016 election, the Republicans need a rational, sensible candidate, and the current leader in the polls, bellicose Donald Trump, isn't that.

This is the year of campaigning dangerously, with some candidates summoning their inner Harry S. Truman and dishing straight talk.

Trump overdoes it. The man has a genius for exaggeration that's hard to ignore, but I'm working on it.

The insurgents are fueled by what pundits are calling "anger at the status quo," peoples' frustration with traditional politics and stuck-in-mud government.

What's behind the rise of people like Sanders and Trump, I ask two political-party leaders.

"Donald comes with a certain level of celebrity, people know him and he's speaking his mind" and people like that whether they agree or not, says Republican City Committee Executive Director Joe DeFelice.

Bernie Sanders, he says, "presents an alternative to [the Democrats'] status quo."

For an opposing view, I turn to Dem kingmaker John Dougherty. "Neither one of them is paralyzed by pollsters, party politics or party structure," he says.

"I don't want to say it's anti-Bush or anti-Clinton," he says. "One is reality TV and the other real people."

Bernie from Brooklyn knew my late father. If Syd were alive he'd be busting his butt for Bernie.

Sanders vaulted out of Vermont like a deer. In his raspy voice he calls out the special interests that have a chokehold on America, and basically says (softly) that Hillary is a harem girl to them.

He's no Bernie-come-lately when it comes to breathing fire on Wall Street - which crashed the economy - and Washington - which let Wall Street get away with it.

He doles out populism, which means supporting the common people over the elite. There were good populists, like Theodore Roosevelt and Robert La Follette, and bad ones like Huey Long and George Wallace.

Over his decades in public office, Sanders' long suit has been consistency, candor and authenticity.

When he says the top 1/10 of the 1 percent owns as much as the bottom 90 percent, he exaggerates, but not by that much. The middle class has constricted, big money pollutes politics and the U.S. should lead the world in environmental protection, he says.

I went to his website for specifics, but found few.

How will he narrow the financial chasm? It's got to be tax policy, but it doesn't say who gets bopped, let alone how he will get his tax bill through Congress.

The Supreme Court approved big money in politics. Beatnik Bernie says he wants a constitutional amendment to reverse that. He should live so long.

As the campaign unspools, Bernie must furnish specifics. At almost 74, the former long-distance runner might think about pledging to serve only one term. (Ronald Reagan was 69 when first elected.)

Like many Americans I am fed up with the special interests, the pandering, back-scratching, power plays and flat-out lies. The only B.S. in Bernie are his initials.

I'm no socialist, but I'm not ruling him out.

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky