Thousands marched in demonstrations against war in Iraq over the weekend, but the pundits were more interested in the reaction of two top administration officials to President Bush’s stance on the University of Michigan racial preference case.

Discussions about Iraq and the peace marches with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Face the Nation and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on Meet the Press were almost routine preliminaries before affirmative action questions.

Secretary Powell did not dispute that he favored the University of Michigan’s position, but made his disagreement with the president sound as if it were merely a technicality.  “We have a common desire to see our universities as diverse places.  How best to achieve that is a challenge. Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer did not ask a follow-up.

Dr. Rice took several questions from host Tim Russert on the Michigan case. She said a Washington Post story about her decisive role in the president’s decision was “not accurate” and that the president was “exactly in the right place.” Rice indicated that she had problems with Michigan’s policy, hinting that it revolved around the 20-point preference on a 150-point scale. She urged policies that “look at the total person.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., the latest to announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, declared the president’s position on the Michigan case to be “wrong, deceptive, divisive, and unnecessary,” but had to fend off tough questioning from Russert on Meet the Press about his past statements against affirmative action.

Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said on Face the Nation that President Bush calling Michigan’s policy a quota was “inflammatory.” On the same program, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the administration brief to the Supreme Court “ingenious.” Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang, called the brief “disingenuous.”

Best commentary of the week about diversity, affirmative action, and the Michigan case came on The News Hour. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields charged that the president was “trying to have it both ways” and The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks noted the contrast between the president’s speech and the subsequent legal brief:

“The Wednesday speech -- it was like the Henry V speech for conservatives -- we happy few. And then the Friday brief comes out and it was a clarion call with a kazoo.”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on both Fox News Sunday and This Week. Thankfully, he was not asked about the Michigan case. His major talking point was that U.N. inspectors are not seeking a “smoking gun,” but rather the compliance that other nations, such as South Africa and the Ukraine, demonstrated when they were subject to inspection.

On Fox, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol saw Rumsfeld making news by declaring that while the U.S. would not invade North Korea, the military option, i.e., a pre-emptive strike on nuclear facilities, was not “off the table.”

Ceci Connally of the Washington Post, also on Fox, disputed the efficacy of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, warning it would be “dirty,” with extensive radioactive contamination.

Go Joe/No-Go Joe

Members of the Capital Gang were split on Joe Lieberman’s candidacy:

Time’s Margaret Carlson: “He's a soccer mom's dream.”

Kate O’Beirne National Review: “He's a religiously active, religiously serious man, and that's very appealing.”

Bob Novak, Chicago Sun-Times: “I've had a lot of Democrats tell me that what they really can't stand about him is Holy Joe, that he's religious, that he talks about God, that he talks about faith. That tells a lot about some of these Democrats, but it also is a problem for him.”

'Thank You, Brother'

When Joe Lieberman concluded his Meet the Press interview with those words, a smiling Tim Russert responded:

“That’s the same thing Al Sharpton said. I’m bringing Jewish and black Americans together.”

The Case Against Michigan’s Plan

David Brooks, on The News Hour: “If you are the son of an African American surgeon, you get a 20-point advantage over the daughter of a Filipino video store manager; that's not fair.”

The Case for Michigan’s Plan

Al Hunt on Capital Gang: “What Michigan has is preferences. They do -- there's no question that you get a racial preference. You get 20 points. You get 80 points for a 4.0 GPA, four times as much as you get for that. Michigan decides they -- everybody does better if you have a more diverse student body.”

Pundit Preference

Margaret Carlson, Capital Gang: “I assume I got a 20-point preference to get on this panel, otherwise there'd be a man sitting here.”

Condi the Candidate?

Asked on Meet the Press if she might be President Bush’s running mate in 2004 or run for President in 2008, Condoleezza Rice replied, “I’ve never run for anything. I don’t think I’d be a very effective candidate.”

Exchange of the Week

From The News Hour:

Mark Shields: “The Democrats will be pandering to each constituency, all of them trying to get the McCain mantle and at the same time being the anti-McCain by just caressing all the erogenous zones for the body politic.”

David Brooks: “Yeah, but the Republican Party, we actually don't have erogenous zones.”

Mailbag

Liberal blogger Atrios blasted last week’s entry regarding judicial nominee Charles Pickering:

“I'm quite offended that you're willing to continue the process of obfuscating the facts in the Pickering case. It's sort of reverse Kafka-esque to pretend that Pickering was upset over a discrepancy in sentencing when he himself approved the original plea bargain. Juan Williams is generally about the least informed pundit out there. I’m not sure what his opinion has to do with anything.”Jeff Hauser also disputed my entry:

“Pickering's behavior has not been defended by a single ethics expert. It involved second-guessing a plea agreement HE agreed with, and is mixed in with a bunch of out-and-out perjury.”

Guy Cabot apparently missed my attempt at irony:

Will suggests that maybe candidates shouldn't read. No thanks, Will. We've seen the disastrous results from having intellectually incurious--and quite possibly illiterate--occupants of the White House during the Reagan administration and the Bush appointment.

Paul Goeld tried to help me:

I'm sorry you were unable to see the Jan. 12 This Week show. In my estimation, there was a major gaffe that went virtually unnoticed. In his interview with Tom Daschle, George Stephanopoulos was discussing the newly proposed Bush tax cuts. Daschle said it was dead on arrival in this Congress. Stephanopoulos reminded Daschle that he had said the same thing two years ago when "WE were fighting" Bush's original tax cut proposals. WE????? George now includes himself in this group? And I thought he was a journalist for ABC News.

Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va. who turned his lifelong obsession with pundit shows into this web log.  His "Punditwatch" column appears on Tony Adragna's Quasipundit; he recently began writing "Virginia Pundit Watch" for Bacon's Rebellion.

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