Pretty Rowdy in Pink

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

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.

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