I came out of my parenting funk last week to learn that Margaret Thatcher, one of the greatest champions of freedom in our era, had passed away. Chihuahuas were barking mad, of course, but as Mark Steyn tells us, Lady Thatcher was the kind who’d savor the fury:
Mrs. Thatcher would have enjoyed all this. Her former speechwriter John O’Sullivan recalls how, some years after leaving office, she arrived to address a small group at an English seaside resort to be greeted by enraged lefties chanting “Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher! Fascist fascist fascist!” She turned to her aide and cooed, “Oh, doesn’t it make you feel nostalgic?” She was said to be delighted to hear that a concession stand at last year’s Trades Union Congress was doing a brisk business in “Thatcher Death Party Packs,” almost a quarter-century after her departure from office.
And here is another quote from the infinitely quotable late Prime Minister:
“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding,” she once said, “Because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
“They” certainly lost a lot of arguments. Steyn summed up the legacy of Lady Thatcher’s domestic policies:
Thatcherite denationalization was the first thing Eastern Europe did after throwing off its Communist shackles — although the fact that recovering Soviet client states found such a natural twelve-step program at Westminster testifies to how far gone Britain was. She was the most consequential woman on the world stage since Catherine the Great, and Britain’s most important peacetime prime minister. In 1979, Britain was not at war, but as much as in 1940 faced an existential threat.
Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility. The Falklands were an itsy bitsy colonial afterthought on the fringe of the map, costly to win and hold, easy to shrug off — as so much had already been shrugged off. After Vietnam, the Shah, Cuban troops in Africa, Communist annexation of real estate from Cambodia to Afghanistan to Grenada, nobody in Moscow or anywhere else expected a Western nation to go to war and wage it to win. Jimmy Carter, a ditherer who belatedly dispatched the helicopters to Iran only to have them crash in the desert and sit by as cocky mullahs poked the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV, embodied the “leader of the free world” as a smiling eunuch. Why in 1983 should the toothless arthritic British lion prove any more formidable? [Emphasis mine, -- ed.]
My grade school years coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. The Soviet media vilified both of them ferociously, but to our family they were friends. We had family members who were trying to leave the Soviet Union, and we appreciated the unwavering support both Thatcher and Reagan expressed for Soviet dissidents and refusniks.
Regardless of family background, my generation loved action flicks and coveted blue jeans and bootleg rock music. But it was up to the political leaders to explain the value of freedom. Back in the 80s, Western leaderships projected optimism and confidence. They showed us why capitalism was successful, and why it was worth imitating. Maggie, Ronny and rock-n-roll were the picture of the West that I grew up with.
Maggie’s opinion was valued. My grandma, who always got her news from the Russian Services of the BBC and the Voice of America, was heartened when the BBC broadcasted the Iron Lady’s opinion of Gorbachev: he was the man she can do business with. That was the seal of approval Eastern Europe craved.
Here is Oleg Atbashian — who is a couple of years older than me and has a more mature recollection of that period — on listening to Maggie on shortwave radio (click on the link for a cool poster). He tuned in for rock-n-roll and stayed for politics:
One night — it had to be late 1982, when Margaret Thatcher was running for her first re-election — my shortwave radio caught a BBC broadcast of the Iron Lady’s campaign speech.
Listening to Thatcher speak confirmed everything the Soviet media was reporting about her, and more. In a deep, powerful voice, she accused her socialist opponents of destroying the British economy through nationalization and presented the proof of how privatizing it again was bringing the economy back to life. The free markets worked as expected, making Britain strong again. The diseased socialist welfare state had to go, to be replaced by a healthy competitive society.
To the average consumer of the Soviet state-run media, that didn’t make any sense. When exactly had Britain become a socialist welfare state? That part never passed the Soviet media filter.
The next logical question would be this: if Great Britain wasn’t yet as socialist as the Soviet Union, then didn’t it mean that whatever freedom, prosperity, and working economy it had left were directly related to having less socialism? And if less socialism meant a freer, more productive, and more prosperous nation, then wouldn’t it be beneficial to have as little socialism as possible? Or perhaps — here’s a scary thought — to just get rid of socialism altogether? [Emphasis mine, --ed.]
My readers are welcome to dispute me, but I prefer Maggie to Ronny. For one, the Iron Lady’s task of privatization was infinitely greater than anything Ronald Reagan had to face. For another, I’m absolutely in awe of her speaking style. Reagan was a great orator, full of passion, insights and spontaneity. But Thatcher, ooow, her zingers were deadly.
I think it’s instructive that while the left talks incessantly about female empowerment, the actual great female leaders are conservative. In part it’s because feminism is a false idol. A non-Y-chromosomed Western politician too attached to the sisterhood is limiting herself. The work of female emancipation now entails such all-important projects like providing already cheap birth control for free. A woman with a vision, like Margaret Thatcher, has to have greater goals in mind. Plus, if the story of Sarah Palin teaches us anything about the women’s movement, it’s that we, women, can be nasty and envious.
Since the second wave feminists taught women that personal is political, which really means that nothing is personal. One’s choice of occupation, of clothing, of, notoriously, coital position, belongs to the sisterhood. Feminism is a way of life, and as far as lifestyle advise goes, this one is highly questionable. Per feminist bumper sticker wisdom, “Well-behaved women seldom make history”. A now middle-aged death rocker we know has that one on her car. There are plenty of obediently ridiculous women in the feminist movement, from raging grannies in pink to slut walks. Is it worth it?
I’m sure it’s all very convenient in short term given how young ladies have all the rationale to party, but I pity the “girls” who will not, in a matter of year or two, grow to regret their participation. The Ukrainian group Femen is selective high-end international version of slut walks. I have to give it to them, they know how to get their egos massaged. Occasionally, their protests have a kind of logic to it. If one has to remove her bra for a cause, flash islamists. Ultimately, though, they are dead-enders (via Leslie Lofties) destined to be a footnote to history. If they get an honorable mention in history books, students struggling to figure out the narrative will wonder if they really need to know about partially naked women who once grabbed headlines.
Margaret Thatcher will get an entire chapter. I’m not sure she was “well-behaved”, certainly not by the standards of the socialist Left, but she was a lady, and as such she commanded attention and respect. When the Meryl Streep film came out in 2011, Margaret Thatcher’s personal style became a popular topic of discussion, which is a bit silly. It’s the women’s movement that’s about style, and the more outrageous, the better. Morrissey is about style. The Iron Lady was about substance.
A side note: Margaret Thatcher had her twins when she was 28 — early by today’s standards. She slowly developed her career and went on to be the most powerful woman in the world. Had she waited another ten years to start her family, she’d spent her 40s carrying for young children, not moving up the Tory political ladder. There is a lesson there.
And, oh, look how slender this mother of twins was — because she gave birth in her 20s?