Sounding tough and standing firm have always been a premium in chief executives. One was described as “. . .an intensely controversial figure. Critics claim that policies were divisive socially, the leader was harsh or ‘uncaring’ in politics and hostile to the institutions of the welfare state. The end came when the rank and file members abruptly deserted the leader and there was no choice but to withdraw and to submit the formal resignation that followed.”
Does this sound like someone we know? This could easily describe Newt Gingrich. Instead, I paraphrased from the biography section at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Web site. Newt has been criticized for allegedly comparing himself to Thatcher. It was not wise for Gingrich to allow his critics to suggest he made such a comparison, but it isn’t wholly inaccurate either. I've already said that the South Carolina results would produce some hyperbole. My analysis of Gingrich and Thatcher isn’t to declare that he is a Thatcher, but only to point out some similarities — not all of them flattering — that help define his appeal within the GOP. In examining these potential similarities, it is arguable whether or not Gingrich is most like the Thatcher who was elected in 1979 or the Thatcher who was eventually overthrown by her own party’s leadership.
The writer Julie Burchill wrote about Margaret Thatcher, “she couldn’t comprehend how absolutely useless, helpless and hopeless quite a lot of people are, often through no fault of their own, and was cursed by an almost surreal optimism and romanticism regarding the capabilities of the individual. If she kicked away the crutches, it wasn’t for pleasure or profit — but because she genuinely believed that everyone had the ability to walk on their own.” Again, this sounds familiar. And the record is full of vicious criticism of the Iron Lady that sounds eerily similar to the left’s and the right’s criticisms of Gingrich.
Thatcher’s and Gingrich’s popularity with the public isn’t that dissimilar either. Newt is unpopular and always has been. But, in December 1980, Thatcher’s job approval was 23 percent. That was lower than any previous prime minister in Great Britain’s history. Her average approval rating during her time in office was 40 percent, and polls consistently showed her to be less popular than her party.
In the media, Thatcher was regularly lampooned as cruel and overbearing. One of her first caricatures developed when she was Education Minister and she abolished free milk for school children aged 7 to 11. She was ridiculed as “Thatcher Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.” But she was confident in her views and convinced that her logic, intellectual honesty and candor would prevail.
America isn’t what Great Britain was in the 1970’s, and Gingrich is a long way from getting elected president. But when Britain was broken, her people were losing hope and left-wing government control had reached new heights, voters turned to Thatcher because she was viewed as effective, not because she was loved, or even popular. It is an interesting piece of history to keep in mind as we dissect voters’ decisions.