In one announcement last week, President Reagan provided two reasons to anticipate good things from his administration. One is named Elizabeth Hanford Dole and the other is named Faith Ryan Whittlesey.
Dole is going into the Cabinet, to succeed Drew Lewis as transportation secretary. And Whittlesey is coming back from her post as ambassador to Switzerland to take over Dole's job as the chief of public liaison on the president's staff.
The only reason one cannot say that Reagan has strengthened his administration by these changes is that Drew Lewis was the star of the Cabinet in its first two years. He took policy initiatives and carried them through with a political skill that impressed everyone in both parties who dealt with him. His loss, to private business, will be felt.
But Reagan sure hasn't hurt himself by getting Liddy Dole into the Cabinet. And Faith Whittlesey--who is much less well known here than her predecessor--will make her mark as the White House official dealing with business, labor, agriculture and the vast array of voluntary organizations.
If Reagan runs again, these are two of the most important political jobs in government. The transportation secretary does business with governors and mayors, the auto, trucking, railroad, aircraft and shipping industries and their unions. The public liaison chief on the White House staff manages all of the president's interest-group relations.
That Reagan, who has been derelict about bringing women into major policy posts, finally has two women in positions of high visibility and responsibility is a major plus. But these two people would be assets to the administration regardless of their gender.
By good fortune, both are people I met some time ago--and it took no brains at all to see how talented they are. Elizabeth Hanford (as she was then) was the assistant consumer adviser in the Nixon White House when I met her at a Wisconsin high school forum arranged by Melvin R. Laird, defense secretary at the time.
A North Carolinian and a graduate of Harvard Law School, she dealt with the students' questions in a serious, straightforward manner devoid of any trace of condescension. Her approach to her later job as a member of the Federal Trade Commission was similarly professional. And when I encountered her from time to time on the campaign trail, she was the same approachable, likable but professional person. You got the feeling that whatever the setting, Liddy Dole was going to give the group and the job at hand the full measure of her considerable ability.
Meeting Faith Whittlesey was even more of a chance thing. I had gone to Delaware County, Pa., in the spring of 1978 to watch some of the candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary perform, and found, to my surprise, that the star of the evening was Whittlesey. She was then running an uphill and ultimately unsuccessful race for the lieutenant governor nomination against William W. Scranton III.
I knew after the first meeting that she had to be included in a book about younger-generation political leaders that was then in my typewriter. You did not have to hear her talk more than 15 minutes to know what a tough, self-assured politician she is. She had to be that to survive.
Pregnant with her third child, she went up against six male rivals and was nominated and elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1972. Then widowed, she took on one of the last of the corrupt, old-line Republican patronage machines, the Delaware County "War Board," and became its new master.
A staunch conservative who picks and chooses for herself among the "women's movement" issues (she is pro-choice on abortion but anti-ERA), Whittlesey is most of all a believer in party discipline. "I know that without the imposition of party discipline we cannot maintain an organization which can deliver votes on crucial issues and for candidates at any given time," she said when we talked.
She told a Philadelphia newspaper back then that "to call a man tough, politically forceful and strong-minded is considered a matter of praise. But if these same attributes are seen in a woman, she is called arrogant, ruthless and lacking in compassion. A woman is supposed to be weak and submissive. I won't play that role."
That kind of spirit is going to be needed in the Reagan administration in the tough days ahead. By picking people as smart as Dole and as tough as Whittlesey, the president has done himself--and the country--a favor.