To some, asking Betty Ford to bail out Ronald Reagan with women voters might seem like asking Joan of Arc to come out in favor of bonfires. Many women see Ford as a maid in shining armor for championing the Equal Rights Amendment, an issue that put her at sword's points with ERA opponent Reagan.
Yet now, in the aftermath of ERA's defeat, the White House is alarmed at the damage Republicans may suffer when women go to the voting booth. Aware of Reagan's poor approval rating among women (a Washington Post/ABC News poll in May showed his performance as president drew 52 percent disapproval and 40 percent approval), presidential aides are seeking ways to narrow what many of them have called Reagan's "gender gap."
Though Betty Ford has heard nothing about it, and a White House spokesman denies talk of it, one proposed scenario in fact has President Reagan naming the former first lady his special adviser on women's issues. He also would set up a "Betty Ford Task Force," with her at the head, comprising other prominent past, present and future GOP politicians. Among the names and divergent philosophies represented could be Clare Boothe Luce, Carla Hills, Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.) and Nancy Thurmond.
Calculated for its explosive effect, the Ford appointment would be intended to steer a middle course between the administration's conservative base and the more liberal factions in the Republican Party. It also would capitalize on the appeal of the former Martha Graham dancer to the eastern media establishment, since in that group, so the thinking reportedly goes, nonconformist Graham dancers are automatically above suspicion.
Yesterday in Vail, Colo., where the Fords are vacationing, a spokeswoman for Betty Ford said neither she nor former president Gerald Ford had heard anything about the possibility of an appointment. "But Mrs. Ford said, 'We, of course, would be honored . . .' " said the aide.
And where would Nancy Reagan fit into Ronald Reagan's rewritten script on women? Answer: as a volunteer career counselor for young women of high school age, helping to guide them away from the lower-paying jobs in such fields as teaching, nursing and library sciences.
Who knows, maybe some of them oughta be in pictures.