Washington Watch: Can foreign policy be good local politics
Those senators, known as the “Three Amigos,” are expected to help Berman attract Republicans and independents.
HOWARD BERMAN Photo: Reuters
Aclose race in California’s new 30th Congressional District is an instructive
case of neighborhood concerns versus national politics and changing voter
priorities. The two contestants are Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, a pair of
Jewish moderate Democratic congressmen thrown together in a newly drawn district
which has about 60 percent of Sherman’s old constituents, 20% of Berman’s and
20% from Rep. Henry Waxman (D).
A new state law sent the top two
finishers in the primary, regardless of party, to face each other on November 6.
In his 15 years on Capitol Hill, Sherman, 57, has concentrated on high
visibility local retail politics. His legislative record in the House is at best
meager, with only three bills of his becoming law, including two renaming post
Berman, 71, on the other hand, has a long record of legislative
achievement and is a highly regarded figure in foreign policy as well as
judicial reform, notably tightening restrictions on copyright
Sherman has been leading in the polls since June, when he
beat Berman by 10 points in the primary, although the gap is shrinking. Berman
is a victim of shifting priorities as voters across the country narrow their
focus and foreign policy is overshadowed by the economy and other issues closer
to home, which have been Sherman’s focus.
Berman has played a prominent
role in shaping America’s position abroad, and facing his toughest race in three
decades, he has to convince voters that is still important to them. As chairman
of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, when Democrats were in the majority,
he prominently worked on matters concerning the Middle East, China and
humanitarian assistance in Africa.
He has been at the forefront in
protecting the bilateral relations between Jerusalem and Washington,
particularly at a time of tension in the alliance. The National Journal has
described Berman as “one of the most creative members of the House and one of
the most clear-sighted operators in American politics.”
on many issues, he has been described as “not one who gets much publicity.” He’s
been working hard to change that and to put more emphasis on local
AS VOTING day nears the campaign has become increasingly
acrimonious and may wind up being the most expensive House race this year. I’ve
known and worked with Berman since he first came to Congress in 1983,
particularly during my nine years as legislative director of the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He consistently demonstrated an imaginative
approach to problems and an ability to work across party lines. That is why his
name appears on so many pieces of legislation.
He created the US-Israel
Cooperative Development Research (CDR) program in 1985, a unique approach that
combined American funding and Israeli scientific expertise in developing
countries to the benefit of all three. He also was responsible for creating a
cooperative program between the international development agencies of both
countries, Israel’s Mashav and USAID, to jointly fight hunger in Africa. He also
was responsible for what has been dubbed the Berman Scholarships, which made it
possible for students from Arab countries to attend American universities in the
Middle East to learn Western values.
On the surface Berman and Sherman
have very similar records but they differ in how they saw and performed their
jobs as legislators. It is apparent in their travels. On Rosh Hashana, Berman
attended services at his own synagogue, Adat Ari El, while Sherman went
shul-hopping to three different local services.
Berman has traveled
overseas more than 150 times, while Sherman has held more than 160 town hall
meetings back in the San Fernando Valley. Foreign policy can be local politics
in a district like the 30th in the Los Angeles suburbs with its large Jewish
population and strong support for Israel, but that is no longer enough to win
“Howard came to Congress as part of that remarkable class of
1982,” said Tom Dine, AIPAC’s former executive director. “His record of
accomplishment is special and stands out, particularly in today’s political
environment dominated by spoilers such as the Tea Partiers, who uncompromisingly
demand their way of the highway.”
BOTH CANDIDATES are strong supporters
of Israel, but the difference is between a leader of considerable stature and
achievement and a follower well back in the pack. Berman’s record of strong
leadership on US Middle East policy is an advantage in the new
Said Dine: “First, I think Howard Berman is indispensable in
the making of US foreign policy in areas of conflict and this accrues to
Israel’s benefit. He is the most respected member of the Foreign Affairs
Committee; there’s no one else like him on the committee today and it will be so
tomorrow. Secondly, he has a true feeling and understanding of the importance of
Israel to America’s security interests. Presidents rely on him, senators and his
House colleagues rely on him.
“He is an international healer in this
broken world, not a ward healer,” he added.
Berman has the support of
most of the California Democratic establishment, the Los Angeles Times and even
some prominent Republicans, including Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and
Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), plus Sen. Joseph Lieberman
Those senators, known as the “Three Amigos,” are expected
to help Berman attract Republicans and independents.
Berman, who has been
dubbed Hollywood’s congressman, also has strong support in the entertainment
community for his work on the Judiciary Committee to protect intellectual
property rights. California Governor Jerry Brown may have said it best in his
endorsement of Berman: “[He] knows what the hell he is doing and can work with
the other side.”