It is altogether appropriate that the grandstanding by the civil-rights lobby and the cravenness of the White House regarding racially exclusive scholarships began in connection with big-time college football, an entertainment industry based in no small measure on exploitation - using up and discarding young black men.

The Fiesta Bowl occurs in Tempe, next door to Phoenix. Both cities have Martin Luther King Jr. holidays, but Arizonans recently voted against a state holiday. Bowl officials, as penance for the sin of playing there, pledged $100,000 to both competing schools for scholarships exclusively for minorities. This is a perverse homage to King, whose dream was an America where people "would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."Enter Michael Williams. He is 37, black, the enforcer of civil-rights laws for the Department of Education, and George Bush's nightmare - a man who thinks little about politics and thinks - thought - Bush means what he says.

Williams notified Bowl officials that race-exclusive scholarships are illegally discriminatory. Naturally, the civil-rights lobbies went ballistic. Interestingly, liberal Democrats did not. There is no rush to defend racially exclusive entitlements, for the country really does honor King, really does aspire to color blindness.

The White House response to Williams' honest law enforcement was panic, retreat and this ruling: Schools can award racially exclusive scholarships that are funded privately.

In retreating, the President committed three affronts to the rule of the law.

He ignored a law, the 1964 Civil Rights Act's Title VI and regulations. He revised a law, the 1987 Civil Rights Restoration ("Grove City") Act which stipulates that all parts of a university are subject to civil-rights laws if any part receives federal funds. And he ignored the Constitution, notably the guarantee of "equal protection." His position is that the Constitution is not for him to interpret. (Bear that in mind when next he interprets the war-powers clause.)

Williams, an honest man sent out to announce the administration's intellectual corruption, said, truthfully, that he had been correct about the law but had been politically naive. Therefore, he said, the law shall be "enforced" differently (not construed differently: the truth is the truth, but shall be irrelevant), to suit White House dictates. Liberals rejoiced at this triumph of expediency over legality.

Bush has been deprived by events and his own actions of the three core Republican issues - anti-communism, balanced budgets, opposition to tax increases. Until last week, he had a fourth: opposition to race-based actions. Now that, too, has been fumbled away.

Williams gave the nation, and especially conservatives, a tantalizing glimpse of what a Republican administration would be in the 1990s if it were headed by a conservative. This episode revealed, redundantly, the nature of this donut administration: There is fine material in the outer circles, but a hole at the center.