Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman kept up their bitter fight for the hearts and minds of the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday night, debating at Temple Judea in Tarzana.
The forum centered on foreign policy, playing to Berman's advantage as the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. If the first debate last month was marked by Sherman's aggressive attacks, the second was characterized by Berman's withering disregard for Sherman as a substantive person.
"Brad's looking for things to do," Berman said at one point, brushing aside a Sherman attack.
Try though they might, however, Berman and Sherman don't have a significant disagreement on Israel. Both are for tough sanctions on Iran. Sherman says he was for tougher sanctions earlier, and Berman says that nobody cares what Sherman thinks. Mark Reed, the lone Republican invited to the debate, advocated for a U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Neither Democrat was willing to go that far.
Some differences did emerge when the debate turned to domestic affairs. Most notably, Sherman opened up some space between himself and Berman by criticizing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the controversial House bill that would have cracked down on online copyright infringement.
Sherman and Berman are both defenders of Hollywood and of intellectual property rights, and both are co-sponsors of SOPA. But at the debate, Sherman said that the bill was "not well designed," and said he would only support a "much different version."
Berman stuck to his guns, and criticized Sherman for changing his position in the face of a public outcry.
"We're talking about property rights. That's what government is for," Berman said. "It isn't 1,000 people yelling at me that causes me to bail out on a piece of legislation."
Indeed, that seems to be one of the few major differences between the two: Sherman is a weathervane and Berman is a stick in the mud. Sherman is all too eager to trim his position to align with public sentiment. He opposed the bank bailouts, while Berman supported them. Sherman opposes free trade agreements; Berman supports them.
Berman, meanwhile, seems all but impervious to public sentiment. Nine years ago, he engineered the passage of Iraq War resolution. More than 80% of Democrats think that was a mistake, and Sherman has said he regrets his vote for the war. Yet Berman has not backed off, and recently said it's still too soon to say whether the war was a mistake. If 1,000 people yelling at him couldn't get him to change his mind, how many would it take?
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Another key difference seems to be generational. Berman is 70, and has been in Congress for 29 years. He's has racked up most of the major endorsements from Democratic Party elders such as Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. He still believes in old-fashioned Capitol Hill dealmaking -- working across the aisle to get things done.
Sherman is 57, but seems younger. He's came into Congress in the late 90s, and seems to embody the more partisan spirit that has dominated that body since that time. Where Berman is about horsetrading, Sherman is about loud protestations of ideological purity.
In his closing, Sherman vowed that he would continue to represent the Valley for another 25 years, an unsubtle jab at Berman's age. Berman countered that his seniority is a virtue.
"When both U.S. Senators and 23 of 25 colleagues say 'We're with Howard,' they're saying 'We work with both of these guys every day, and we want Howard to stay here,'" Berman said.