- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

Democrats have been pillorying President Bush for opposing racial preferences in college admittance, but two major new polls show the public is on Mr. Bush's side.
On Thursday, Mr. Bush declared his administration's opposition to the University of Michigan's policy of giving preference to minority applicants. Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a declared candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, called Mr. Bush's decision "wrong deceptive and divisive."
But a Time magazine poll of 1,010 adults conducted Jan. 15-16 shows 54 percent disapproved of programs that give racial preferences to minority applicants at colleges and universities, while 39 percent approved. And in a Jan. 16-17 Newsweek poll, more than two-thirds of Americans opposed racial preferences in college admissions.
The chorus of complaints from leading Democrats has grown louder since Thursday, when White House lawyers filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that Michigan's affirmative-action policies are unconstitutional and unfair.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called Mr. Bush "the most anti-civil rights president in 50 years." New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared at presidential candidate Al Sharpton's Harlem headquarters to vow she would fight Mr. Bush in the Supreme Court on the Michigan case. New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer joined in, pointing to Mr. Bush's renomination of federal Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. to an appeals court position and accusing the president of using race as a wedge issue.
Polls indicate, however, that the president's position is more popular, even with minorities, than that of his critics.
Whites in the Newsweek poll oppose preferences for minority students by a margin of 73 percent to 22 percent. By a smaller margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, minorities also oppose preferences.
The Bush position appears consistent with what Republicans have been saying in speeches and essays for years, in that the president's stance embraces both inclusiveness making sure everyone has an equal shot at making good and an abhorrence of quotas.
Some black Republicans, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, have said affirmative action enabled them to get a foot in the door, after which their own merit advanced them to the top.
But others such University of California Regent Ward Connerly hold that merit alone should determine whether an applicant gains admittance to a school, wins a job or climbs the ladder to success.
Some Republican consultants argue privately that even if the vast majority of blacks were to believe they needed preferences and quotas and were inclined to punish politicians and parties that tried to end them, Mr. Bush would not be endangered politically by the position he took in the Michigan case.
In the first place, they point out, only 9 percent of blacks voted for Mr. Bush in 2000. Some Republican campaign professionals say privately that the president is not likely to lose any more black votes or to gain many more no matter what his policies.
These campaign consultants say white, suburban voters are the real targets of both parties.
Pollsters say suburban soccer moms and dads prefer politicians and parties that show tolerance and acceptance when it comes to race or ethnicity.
The Bush position may appeal to these voters, as it does not rule out considering race or ethnicity in some manner, so long as that does not lead to quotas and preferences, such as at Michigan.
The school adds 20 points to admission scores for black and Hispanic applicants, putting them one-fifth of the way toward the 100 points needed for admission on a 150-point scale.
Consultants also say the Bush position appeals to the suburban soccer moms' concern that their children will be denied college admission because of preferences for minorities.

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