Former prime minister Lady Thatcher, the last remaining of the great triumvirate (Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II were the others) to break the back of communism, has died. Britain’s longest serving prime minister, she was like the other 20th century great prime minister, Winston Churchill, a lover of America who elevated the Anglo-American alliance to new heights. At times she seemed to “get” America, its economic dynamism, its decency and its indispensability better than many American politicians.
It will be repeated endlessly that she was the grocer’s daughter who made it all the way to 10 Downing Street. Less well remembered was her training as a chemist. Both grounded her in the real world and helped define the world in bold, consistent hues. You either profited in business or you didn’t. You either got the chemical formula right or not. Her no-nonsense outlook and refusal to suffer fools (or tyrants) were her defining public attributes.
That grounding in the real world, far from the inner sanctum of British elites, gave her a thorough appreciation of the strengths of free markets. She took her country by the scruff of the neck, shook loose the trade unions that had strangled the once-great British economy and remade Britain from a socialist basket case to a thriving power, wisely keeping the Continent at arm’s length. (Among her great contributions was to keep Britain out of the euro zone.)
She stood up to terrorism (the IRA) before most in the United States had any understanding of the methods and mindset of groups who specialized in killing innocents. Like Reagan she survived an assassination attempt (her hotel in Brighton was blown up in 1984). And like Reagan she did not take kindly to international aggression (in the Falklands or elsewhere). She was an indefatigable Cold Warrior, and she was ultimately a successful one at that.
She was for me, and no doubt many women of the 20th century, a towering figure who attained real power by virtue of her own hard work and excellence. She did not derive her power from men or from victimology. In contrast to the 20th century feminists, she was painfully aware of sexism but did not obsess about it. She simply got the job done. No excuses, no whining and no personal drama. (Her 41 years of devoted marriage to Denis was evocative of the love match between Ronald and Nancy Reagan.)
In an era in which posers, celebrities, self-made victims and the simply mediocre have a lock on political power in the U.S., conservatives can’t help but regard her passing with a great deal of melancholy. She was a tower of strength because of her ideas and she challenged the post-war socialist consensus, eventually proving it pathetically unsuccessful. Her declaration that “first you win the argument, then you win the vote” is a favorite aphorism on the right because it speaks to their greatest aspiration: that the power of their ideas will carry the day.
She was quite simply the finest female political leader and conservative of the 20th century, and among the best of either gender in both categories. To say she will be missed falsely infers that her absence on the world stage has not already been keenly felt by those who had the privilege to be on the planet when the Iron Lady inspired Brits and non-Brits and when she not only ruled but transformed Britain as few had.