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January 20, 2003

Affirmative Action Jiu-Jitsu In the

Affirmative Action Jiu-Jitsu

In the days since the Bush administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that race as a factor in the University of Michigan's admissions policy is unconstitutional, Condoleeza Rice has issued a statement supporting the use of race as a factor in college admissions, and Colin Powell has stated his support for affirmative action. Another black cabinet member, Rod Page, hasn't said anything about it, even though he's the secretary of education. Rumor has it that he agrees with Bush's position.

In both cases, the easily excited mainstream media has characterized Rice's and Powell's statements as major breaks, exposing heretofore unseen rifts in the White House, with statements like the following.

It was a rare public acknowledgment of dissent with the president and with other top White House aides.

In an extraordinary departure from the White House's carefully crafted public stand on affirmative action....

Her statement quickly led to speculation that there were sharp differences between Rice and Bush.

Since the Bush presidency is notoriously lock-step in nature, those are hardly surprising angles to take, but while the rift in the administration angle is the most obvious, it's also the one with the least evidence. After months and months of toeing the administration line on all sorts of policies, the idea Colin and Condi have all of a sudden decided to cross that line on this one issue doesn't hold a lot of water. The muted response from a White House that is also notorious on loyalty issues further argues against this kind of analysis. If Powell and Rice were saying things the administration didn't want the to say, there would be a lot more reaction. Remember Paul O'Neill? He didn't toe the line wll enough, and now he's gone. If either Condi or Colin had the same penchant for running off at thee mouth, they would be gone, too.

The whole situation smacks of covering a political flank, and of throwing a bone to the black community. Does anyone realistically think that the Rehnquist court is going to uphold the Michigan quota system? Once the admissions policy is overturned, once the Bush administration has gotten a decision stating that admissions policies should be race neutral, the question then becomes how to attract black voters in the next election, especially when the Democrats can be expected to use the results of the case to play the race card for all it is worth.

And the Democrats will play the race card; lately it has been the only effective card they have.

The Republicans, knowing that the race card is going to be played, just face the question of how to minimize it's impact, not on blacks*, but on suburban white women. That's the audience the Condi/Colin statements are aimed at. For the next two years, administration statements on affirmative action will toe a new line, call it Merit Plus, where the Plus is a vague statement about the value of diversity, and references to ways non-quota means of ensuring diversity.

*If Karl Rove manages to lessen its impact among African Americans as well, that's gravy, as well as absolute doom for the Democrats.

Posted by Bigwig at January 20, 2003 07:42 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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