November 13, 2012

Rep. Brad Sherman has been named to the Forward 50, the newspaper’s annual list of “American Jews who made the most significant impact on the news in the past year.”

By that measure – impact on the news – there’s no question that Sherman deserves to make the list, though I’d wonder if an equally strong case couldn’t be made for the man he bested in last week’s election, Rep. Howard Berman. Did Sherman somehow bear primary responsibility for ensuring that every national news outlet worth a damn checked in on this race at least once? With one notable exception (Pierce College, where it was Sherman’s outburst made the news), it’s hard to say.

But that’s not how people read these lists, of course. It’s less “Sherman’s a newsmaker!” and more, “Here’s his name, right alongside Eric Cantor, Jack Lew, Dan Senor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Brad Sherman must be a power broker among Jews!”

That latter statement might still turn out to be true, of course — particularly if Sherman manages to win another contest against yet another bald, bespectacled Jewish incumbent Democrat. Sherman and Rep. Eliot Engel  (D – NY) are both vying for Berman’s former position as ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

But does the way he beat Berman alone qualify Sherman for giant-killer status, as the Forward would have its readers believe? I’m not sure. Sherman always had a lead in the race and was always better known in the district. He also started off the race with far more cash on hand than Berman had.

Of course, no reader could discern any of those facts from the profile of Sherman in the Forward. Instead, Sherman was “left for dead” when the race began, until, somehow, he “defied a fundraising deficit and an embarrassing viral video to pull off a convincing victory.”

Chanukah is coming, so I guess some Maccabee-style myth-creation isn’t an awful activity to engage in. But this hagiographic profile is chock full of unsubstantiated claims.

“Sherman shouldn’t have had to fight for his spot in Congress,” the Forward opines, as if the months of speculation and posturing that preceded this race (Brad, move to Ventura! No, Howard, you go!) never took place, as if California’s new independent redistricting commission hadn’t been specifically instructed to ignore incumbency when drawing the district where Sherman ultimately won.

(Which isn’t to suggest that Berman shouldn’t have bowed out before the race: There are more than 11 million good reasons why doing so might have been a good idea.)

“The tone of the campaigns grew increasingly bitter in early fall,” the Forward’s bio continues, neglecting to mention that from the campaign’s earliest moments, Sherman was on the attack, with Berman looking flat-footed at best.

But the kicker doesn’t come until the penultimate paragraph:

“Sherman also suffered from a decision by pro-Israel donors to side with his opponent,” the Forward writes. “Experts said this was because of a perception that the older congressman had more D.C. clout.”

From the way he ran his campaign, you'd be hard-pressed to imagine Sherman himself making the argument that he had as much “D.C. clout” as Berman. Sure, Sherman tried to raise questions about how much credit Berman could claim for some of his achievements (the Dream Act) and take partial credit for others (the 405 expansion). But the overall message of Sherman’s own campaign was not that he was more powerful or influential than his more senior colleauge. Sherman presented himself as the Congressman constituents in the district knew and successfully painted Berman as a stereotypical D.C. insider, busy flying around the world on the taxpayers’ dime to meet the leaders of nations and their emissaries. That's how he won.

But the more basic problem with that sentence is this: In politics, the perception that a lawmaker has “D.C. clout” is almost identical to his having that clout.

Now: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Forward staff is working under remarkable duress, so we probably should cut them some slack, maybe even shoot them a donation. This blogger has no quibble with the rest of the folks on the list – the other politicos on are all undisputedly in possession of some serious “D.C. Clout.”

But that one question nags: Who are the Forward’s “experts?” I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure; they’re probably just as happy with this year’s list of 50 as they are with the result in California’s 30th Congressional District.

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