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Pretty Rowdy in Pink 

How some ladies from S.F. will harass Hillary Clinton into being the tipping point against the Iraq War

Wednesday, Dec 21 2005
Imagine a pink-clad, political fairy princess with magical powers, which allow her to accomplish anything at all, no matter how impossible-seeming or absurd.

It so happens there exists such a sprite. San Francisco leftist gadfly Medea Benjamin, and the anti-war women's group she co-founded called Code Pink, ironically has members of the passionate right seeing red in defense of their proclaimed enemy: Democrat Hillary Clinton.

These Merry Pinksters, along with groups representing anti-war grandmothers, anti-war parents, and anti-war veterans, have been bird-dogging Clinton's public appearances, aiming to embarrass the senator from New York for her opposition to pulling troops out of Iraq.

Earlier this month Code Pink booed Clinton down in Chicago "during what was supposed to be a motivational speech to young people," wrote a syndicated columnist appearing in the Unification Church's Washington Times. Bad-mouthing the Iraq War, a form of "deranged defeatism, will earn you a Code Pink T-shirt and a hug from Cindy Sheehan. But as Hillary (dangerously for Republicans) seems to understand, it won't win much else."

Clinton was scheduled to appear in San Francisco on Dec. 20, a visit that's been postponed, probably until January, according to a woman I spoke to at the S.F. Bar Association, the event's sponsor.

Conservative views notwithstanding, there's plenty to merit dogging Clinton when she arrives here -- or anywhere else she goes during her pre-pre-primary campaign for president. She's touted as an early favorite.

Benjamin describes a two-flank strategy in which one cell of pink ladies infiltrates the Clinton appearance, while another raises a U.S.-out-of-Iraq ruckus outside.

"We go in to hear what she has to say, and respond if we don't like what we hear, which is unfortunately much of the time," Benjamin says. "I don't think people understand how bad her position has been on this war. She's voted for every resolution to continue the war, to fund the war; she's called for 80,000 more troops in the military; she's refused to sign on to bills calling for an exit strategy; and she's been, in general, a major disappointment."

I've complained in the past about liberals devouring our own. But I think this pink brigade has chosen an appropriate, even delectable, dish. According to the lead article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, pollster Daniel Yankelovich demonstrates how popular sentiment against U.S. involvement in Iraq has neared a tipping point, beyond which policy-makers will be forced to pull out.

This is a moment Democrats might think about preparing for. Instead, front-runner Clinton is positioning herself toward the middle of 2003 popular sentiment about the war. By 2008 the plot she's staking out now may have been abandoned by most Americans. Then she'll have to either flip-flop or remain in moderate left field.

With that in mind, Hillary's bird-dogging pink chorus may be offering better advice than her mainstream Democratic handlers.

That's a sound, if Machiavellian, reason for conservatives to defend Clinton against the pink hordes.

Speaking of partisan sport, is there a more satisfying local pastime than chuckling at the "I don't hear you/I'm not listening" crowd? Pour a glass of wine; bring up the topic of intelligent designers, global-warming-doesn't-existers, or NRA handguns-don't- kill-people mopes; snicker about how they posit the existence of scientific debate where none exists; then take a self-satisfied nip of canapé.

In the interests of expanding local yuletide cheer, I propose adding another group of flat-Earthers to this cocktail-chatter victims list -- the ear-clapping nitwits who still reject the connection between increased parking and increased automobile congestion downtown.

This set has spent the last couple of weeks working to beat back municipal legislation that would limit new parking spaces in the city's densest downtown area to one space for every two new apartments. The bill would also constrain the way parking garages are built, so they wouldn't interfere with pedestrian traffic and would be less likely to impede the construction of retail space.

Earlier this month, SFSOS, a front group created to carry out the political dabblings of Gap Inc. founder Don Fisher, clogged City Hall fax machines with 1,000 pages of spam, drafted two dozen people to show up at a committee meeting, and filed a legal protest, all in the name of stopping legislation that would limit the number of parking spaces built in the highly congested downtown skyscraper district.

Political consultant Doug Comstock, meanwhile, on behalf of political operator Barbara Meskunas, sent out a call to arms earlier this month headlined "Where Am I Going to Park Downtown?" warning of a downtown "parking shortage," and urging citizens to tell politicians, "Hands off my parking spot."

Limiting parking spaces downtown equals government interference in our private lives? When this sort of thing is uttered by the "cold dead fingers" NRA crowd, by the there's-no-global-warming SUV-rights crowd, or by creationists who see science curricula as a personal violation, San Franciscans laugh it off.

Yet parking zealots -- whose assertion that more parking spaces are "needed" in high-rise, transit-served neighborhoods is similarly discredited by experts -- seem to get a free ride here.

UCLA professor Donald Shoup's book The High Cost of Free Parking, published this spring, is the latest in a mountain of research by academic and civic planners regarding the negative correlation between the number of parking spaces in American downtowns and quality of life.

Americans' habit of constructing parking lots as a transportation solution "distorts transportation choices, warps urban form, and degrades the environment," Shoup writes.

Like global warming, the idea that too much parking can be a problem is sometimes attacked by conservative pundits. Like global warming, it's not seriously doubted by experts in the field.

BART board member Tom Radulovich is executive director of Transportation for a Livable City, which helped draft the parking legislation. He notes that parking spaces also fetter economic development.

"There's an upper limit on auto-oriented development downtown, and that is the capacity of the roadway. If we want to add more jobs downtown, and bring more people downtown, we have to decouple that from driving and parking," Radulovich says. "This isn't a matter of ideology. It's a matter of geometry."

When the there's-no-global-warming blockheads claim to disbelieve climatology, that's viewed here as silly. When intelligent designers quarrel with biology, we smirk. Isn't it about time parking zealots -- whose beliefs rest on the notion that geometry doesn't exist -- likewise be laughed out of town?

As a city blanketed with universities, conservatories, institutes, and think tanks, San Francisco is a studious town. Our city fathers spend millions on analysts, audits, blue-ribbon commissions, and other inquiry, making us perhaps the most apprised city on Earth.

In the latest such example, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced he would appoint a blue-ribbon committee to study the issue of police officers who film insulting videos. In keeping with our community's high esteem for the life of the mind, the Chronicle asserted that, if Newsom wishes to be seen as a man of action, he will keep his commitment in order to shift into beard-stroking mode.

"Newsom vowed to convene a blue-ribbon panel to recommend Police Department reforms, a move that he now must deliver on unless he wants to be tagged as a politician who makes empty promises," the story explained.

I have an idea for another plan of action, one that also involves lots of studying, and one that just might allow the city to put an end to some of this other bogus studiousness.

Why not conduct a public relations audit to determine the fiscal and economic impact every time a politician uses city resources to run a PR campaign rather than take needed action? The mayor's ongoing handling of the police video flap is a prime candidate for such an inquiry.

To reprise, a few weeks ago a cop posted a video on the Internet making fun of the homeless, racial minorities, and others. Public Relations 101 says that, in the event of potential negative publicity, a celebrity either sidesteps or steps in front of, re-contriving events to create the appearance that the celebrity is simultaneously a protagonist and a victim of potentially besmirching events.

The mayor, brilliantly from a PR perspective, created the appearance of doing both.

Newsom called in political consultant Eric Jaye, of Storefront Political Media, who got to run the Mayor's Office for a couple of days. A passel of cops quickly got suspended. The mayor announced plans to upend the culture of the Police Department, which is to a dangerous extent infected by prejudiced, incompetent power-trippers.

Within days, however, the mayor's rhetoric softened.

Rather than overhaul the department himself, the mayor said, he would appoint a blue-ribbon commission. By Thursday the stance had turned to mush. The blue-ribbon commission idea was "stalled" pending further notice. All 24 policemen suspended were back to work in a week. And the mayor's stated concern had shifted from supposed preoccupation with the piggish ways S.F. police act to piggish things they said. The cops' "slander," to be distinguished from their actual contempt for citizens, had to stop, Newsom said.

All in all, this was a successful PR campaign, in which the mayor distanced himself publicly from his nasty cops, while offering a wink and a nudge to the officers themselves.

For the city, however, it's a disaster. The sundry direct costs of this PR exercise -- fighting off the cadre of high-powered lawyers the police union has engaged, paying overtime to cover the shifts of suspended officers, and putting high-paid underlings into crisis-PR rather than crisis-fix-things mode -- will end up totaling many thousands of dollars.

The indirect costs, however, will be more staggering. The fact the mayor said he's going to take on the untouchable police union, then pretended to have said nothing of the sort, will have awful consequences. The worst officers, with their union behind them, will become both emboldened and enraged, something the rest of us will suffer for during years to come.

There's a topic for a blue-ribbon commission.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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