RESEDA, Calif. -- Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from the 27th District of California in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, is a congressman who is obviously not afraid of his constituents. Many are these days, but Sherman takes out advertisements in local newspapers urging people to come and reason with (or yell at) him at "Town Hall" meetings.
Several hundred, maybe a thousand, did just that last Sunday afternoon in the auditorium of Reseda High School. He is good at this. He has done 140 of them. There are cookies and punch outside the hall. He introduces his mother, who baked some of the cookies, he leads the Pledge of Allegiance -- some of the Tea Party types lining the wall shout out "UNDER GOD" at the appropriate moment -- and a young woman sings "The Star-Spangled Banner." Then he tells parents that he can appoint young people to West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy -- and the Merchant Marine Academy. He presents an award to a local high school artist whose photos he has arranged to be hung in the Capitol. He turns to American Legion members and says: "We are the land of the free because we are the home of the brave."
Then the yelling starts. Sherman, a lawyer and accountant by training, is unflappable, until the shouters begin to say he should be arrested for supporting Israel in the matter of foreign ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian assistance. A man of many years with a long gray ponytail -- there are an amazing number of gray ponytails out here -- jiggles a sign that says: "Brad Sherman Helps Israelis Kill Americans!"
Sherman says Israel is acting within the law because the Hamas government of Gaza is, legally, a terrorist organization. "There is no other country in the world," he says passionately, "that faces daily threats from people wanting to kill all its citizens. ... If I went to Gaza they would probably kill me."
He repeatedly refers to Palestinians as law-breakers, until a woman yells, "Did you feel that way about civil rights demonstrators sitting at lunch counters?"
"That was different," said Sherman. "They were protected by federal law." A bit of a fib there.
He finally dealt with the shouting problem by turning off one of the two microphones for questioners, saying Los Angeles police were coming. Then he turned to the other aisle where the questions were generally on domestic issues. My personal applause meter on the congressman's answers:
"You can now sign up for health insurance without regard to pre-existing conditions." A hundred percent cheers.
"I want to extend unemployment benefits." Ninety percent cheers.
"I voted against the TARP bill." Another 90 percent.
"I voted for the stimulus bill." Boos and cheers. Fifty-fifty.
The audience began to shout again to both boos and cheers.
"Stop the wars!" someone said. Ninety percent cheers.
"You took an oath to enforce the laws. So enforce the laws on illegal immigrants," said someone else. That got almost 100 percent applause. But when Sherman said he was against "the Arizona approach," the crowd was about 50-50. (Although the Hispanic population of the 27th District is above 30 percent, my personal racial profiling indicated there were no Hispanics in the crowd.)
Someone asked if Sherman would debate his opponent. He said he had no opponent. The guy sitting in front of me, in a business suit and with a tightly tied pigtail to the small of his back, stood up and said that was a lie. "I'm Mark Reed, and I'm your Republican opponent," he said. "I want four debates."
"Not until you file the proper financial papers," said Sherman. "Until then I have no opponent."
Reed, who says he is part Comanche, said he was not required to file until July 15. People looked dazed. Someone shouted "Chicken!"
"I'm no chicken," said the congressman. "Anyone who faces this audience is no chicken."