WASHINGTON — Faith Ryan Whittlesey, in addition to being the highest-ranking woman in the Reagan White House, also has been described as its last true conservative. Reportedly battle-fatigued from dealing with White House moderates who do not see eye-to-eye with her, Whittlesey will leave her post as White House director of public liaison next month to resume her job as ambassador to Switzerland.
But her kindred spirits could not let her go without that fine Washington tradition, a farewell roast.
At least it was billed as a roast. And it was certainly that, but Whittlesey was not the one spinning on the spit.
Instead of reserving the evening for playfully jabbing Whittlesey, the conservatives spent most of their time bashing--and not too playfully--their many close personal enemies: liberals, Democrats, moderate Republicans (especially the "sea of nincompoops" who columnist-roaster John Lofton said had engulfed Whittlesey at the White House: Michael Deaver, White House deputy chief of staff; James Baker, former White House chief of staff, and Richard Darman, former secretary to the White House staff), the television networks (especially CBS), journalists (especially the Washington Post) and feminists, such as those named in the roasting session by Lofton: "NOW national chair-shrew Judy Goldsmith, chief chair-witch Kathy Wilson of the National Women's Political caucus. . . ."
Even Chappaquiddick jokes were considered well within the realm of good taste by these most conservative conservatives, who included Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Sen. John East (R-N.C.), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), direct-mail king Richard Viguerie, Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh, Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Garden Grove), Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), columnist M. Stanton Evans and National Pro-Life Political Action Committee director Peter Gemma.
Not Top Heavy
Noticeably absent were any top-level White House officials or Cabinet members. President Reagan sent Whittlesey a telegram.
The $100-a-plate dinner benefitted the Committee for Responsible Youth Politics, which recruits and trains young conservatives. One of the products of CRYP, Yale law student Peter Keisler, assured the audience that the conservative revolution was sweeping college campuses. He read several verses of Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin'," to illustrate his point, even though Dylan's hit song had dramatized the rather different changes of the 1960s.
The mood was set early by the opening entertainment, which was a serious presentation. Youngsters put on a martial arts exhibition, dubbed a "patriotic ballet," while a loud recording of "Exodus" played and Jhoon Rhee, head of the Jhoon Rhee Institute of Tae Kwon Do, read his poem "Might for Right," comparing the conflict between good and evil to that between the "righteous right and sinister left." Not to worry. In the end, " . . . So does the righteous right cover the evil left."
Members of the Students Against Draft Dodgers passed out pink bumper stickers that said, "Downey is a Wimp," referring to Rep. Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.), who almost came to blows with Dornan on the House floor recently after Dornan called Downey a "wimp" for criticizing anti-government contra forces in Nicaragua.
A good time was had by all.
A Moot Point
Lofton, who wore a child's party hat, drew lots of laughs for his belittling characterizations of feminists, which were used in praising Whittlesey for one of her many controversial stances. During the 1984 campaign, Whittlesey told President Reagan that the so-called gender gap was exaggerated, and that he should not consider women as a separate group with its own issues--infuriating feminists. As it turned out, there was a 4-point difference in the men's and women's presidential vote, but it seemed a moot point considering that Reagan garnered 57% of the female vote.
Her Own Drummer
Whittlesey marched to her own drummer when she became the director of public liaison in March, 1983, replacing the popular Elizabeth Dole when she left to become secretary of transportation. While many regarded the job as one of dealing with the concerns of different constituencies--women, farmers, minorities and other American groups--Whittlesey was criticized for spending most of her time talking with conservative activists and heading an extensive outreach program on Central America.
One reported example of how Whittlesey irritated other White House officials came during the campaign, when Whittlesey recommended that Reagan appear on the cover of the National Rifle Assn. magazine, accepting an engraved handgun set on a plaque. On another occasion, White House spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters at a news briefing that some remarks she had made were "out of kilter" with the President's views on women's rights.
Lavished With Praise