Sarah Whittemore

Oral History Project Interview 


I asked my Father, Arthur Snow Whittemore III about the 1980’s; which correlates with the American Yawp Chapter 29. At first I asked my father if he would consent to answering my questions and he did.

Q: What was your opinion on Reagan’s political movement the “New Right?”

A: I believe that a focus on conservative values and personal responsibility is an excellent foundation.  I agree with Jefferson that the government that governs best is the government that governs least and with Ford that a government that is able to give you everything you want will take from you everything that you have.

Q: How did the “New Right” affect your life?

A: The reascent of conservative principles, especially with regard to reduced taxation provided a huge economic uplift – a rising tide that lifted all boats.  Perhaps more importantly, though, the engineered demise of communism fundamentally changed the world.  We no longer fear global nuclear war — there are other terrors – but the unthinkable is no longer a threat.  That is thanks to Ronald Reagan more than anyone else.

Q: How did the media portray Jerry Falwell and the moral majority? 

A: I didn’t pay much attention to the Moral Majority or any of their ilk.  They were conservatives for a different reason that I was.  But the evangelicals were necessary to create the voting bloc we needed to slow the tide of progressiism.

Q: Is the religious right more powerful today than in the 1980’s in your opinion?

A: I don’t think the religious right has much sway today right now.  So No.

Q: Did you notice the difference between President Carter’s “New Deal” and President Reagan’s “New Right?” If so, what are they?

A:  The New Deal was FDR not Carter.  And the differences between the New Deal (and also the Great Society of the sixties) and the conservative movement of the eighties and nineties is a stark contrast.  The success of the conservative movement changed the democratic party from a new deal / great society mindset to a more business focused type of democrat.  As your article says, the democrats of the nineties looked and talked a lot like the republicans of the sixties.

Q: Do you think that the moral majority is still a force in the Republican Party and have they become more radical?

A: I really don’t think the evangelicals have much sway.  The conservative pundits on FoxNews still defend religious freedom, and point out injustices against christians, but the thought leadership is not there — it’s about economic ideology not religious ideology.

Q: Do Political Action Committies (PAC) have more influence today than they did in the last 1970’s early 1980’s? 

A:  Sure — they didn’t really exist until the eighties when the campaign finance laws changed.

Q: Do you remember the Energy Crisis? How were you and/or anyone you knew affected by the crisis? 

A: Gas prices rose by a factor of five and even then you couldn’t get any.  You sat in line in your car to fill your tank and could only get gas on even or odd days depending on your license plate.  But it went way beyond the energy crisis.  The 70s (despite some good music) was a period of terrible malaise in America — first Watergate, then Stagflation and the Carter Years, including the loss of American exceptionalism around the globe.  We were on the verge of falling apart.  Reagan comes with both good ideas and great optimism.  It really changed the trajectory.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t permanent.

Q: My textbook states: “Americans increasingly embraced racial diversity as a positive value but most often approached the issue through an individualistic—not a systemic—framework.” Do you think race relations were better when Reagan was in office or are they better now? Why do you think this?   

A: Race relations have been on a steady improvement over time.  I think they were better in the 80s than in the 60s and I know they are better today than they were in the 80s.  Forget all the George Floyd riots.  Look at neighborhoods.  Look at mixed marriages.  My son-in-law is black.  My grandchildren are mixed race.  That would not have happened a generation ago.  And certainly not two generations ago.  Things are getting better every day.  The left just doesn’t want us to believe that — perhaps they think the pace of change is not fast enough – but the direction of change is one of constant improvement.

Q: Do you remember what it was like when Democratic candidate Walter Mondale named his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to ever run in a debate?

A: In my opinion, her gender was irrelevant.  She just wasn’t qualified.  I would have voted for plenty of women for VP if they were qualified.  So her gender wasn’t a factor for me, and I really didn’t think it mattered to most voters.  It was a curiosity but I don’t think her sex affected the election.

Q: How did your life change when the The Apple II computer came out in 1977?  

A: Not much.  My first computer was an IBM PC in 1985.  I’ve had a computer ever since.

Q: What changed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s that fueld the rise of conservatism?

A: The fifties were a soft and easy time in America, but with a looming threat from the USSR.  The sixties were a time of radical change (much as now) that left much of middle America uneasy, but unsure where to go.  Nixon called them the silent majority, but they were unable to make a difference.  So in the sixties we saw the Great Society BS and riots and hippies.  It came really fast as a reaction to a failing war in Viet Nam.  Nixon came along and tried to slow it, but then the Watergarte scandal put the conservatives on the run.  But there were no real conservatives thenn.  It was the failure of economic policy and foreign policy under Carter that brought us to the point where conservatism could truly emerge.