She popularized the phrase, "Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels."
Faith Whittlesey, President Ronald Reagan’s two-time ambassador to Switzerland and the highest ranking woman in his administration, was a force to be reckoned with. But she was far from the typical image of a feminist, author Thomas Carty tells Newsmax TV.
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Carty, in discussing his new book, “Backwards in High Heels: Faith Whittlesey, Ronald Reagan's ‘Madam Ambassador’ in Switzerland and the West Wing,” notes that Whittlesey didn’t come about the ambassadorship the typical way.
Rather thank being a well-heeled, big-pocketed campaign donor, “she was appointed as a long-time supporter, a loyal ally, committed friend to President Reagan, a political ally, and also as someone who had been to Europe and knew the culture,” Carty tells Newsmax.
“She had gone door to door; she understood the ideas behind the Reagan Revolution in the 1970s and . . . she also recognized the importance of Switzerland as a highly important financial superpower.”
As ambassador, the widowed mother of three found a way to work as allies with the officially neutral Switzerland. And when Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev there in 1985, Whittlesey met him at the airport with a book of Heritage Foundation talking points. “That was seen as the great success of the Geneva Conference, that Reagan did not make any promises that he would later regret.”
In her West Wing office, Whittlesey’s main goal was fighting communism, Carty tells Newsmax. She also was fiercely anti-abortion, and was able to bring groups that had traditionally voted for Democrats, such as Catholics, Hispanics, and evangelical Christians, into the Reagan fold.
When Reagan sent the first U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, the Rev. Jerry Falwell was among evangelicals who were upset, claiming it violated separation of church and state.
But Whittlesey was able to convince them that the Vatican’s common stance against communism and abortion made the official recognition a positive, Carty said.
She had the anti-abortion film “The Silent Scream” screened at The White House. When Chief of Staff Donald Regan feared that to be too controversial, “she responded, ‘This isn’t controversial, this is the president’s policy.’”
Whittlesey, who had faced discrimination because of her gender while in law school, made sure she was heard when some in the Republican Party tried to pigeonhole her on domestic issues.
“Some Republicans were suggesting that, well, maybe Reagan’s too strong on defense; this could be alienating women,” Carty tells Newsmax. “And Faith Whittlesey said, ‘No, we shouldn’t look at women as distinct in their policy views; we shouldn’t stereotype women as, say, anti-war any more than men would be anti-war.’ She said, women have the same pocketbook issues that men have.”
Despite efforts to relegate her to “women’s issues,” Whittlesey staunchly stood her ground, Carty said. “She said, no, I can handle the defense issues; I can handle the economic issues as well as the social issues.”
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