Remembering the Iron Lady

Confession time: The grocer’s daughter  was the only world leader to whom I ever sent a Valentine’s Day card.

I did so in 1980, just a few months after she began her eleven-year run as the United Kingdom’s only female prime minister (1979-1990). There was nothing romantic about it. It was simply a gesture of friendship across an ocean to someone—a kindred heart and spirit—who so clearly understood the dangers posed at that time by an assertive, expansionist Soviet empire that had just invaded Afghanistan. Mrs. Thatcher was just the kind of friend that the US needed at that time. I was surprised, and humbled, when I received a gracious acknowledgment of my card from one of the PM’s secretaries.

Lady Thatcher, who passed away Monday at age 87, helped to define her era. During her eleven years at 10 Downing Street, she was one of those commanding presences about whom it could be said, “Tell me what you think of Margaret Thatcher, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Those who believed then or believe now in traditional values—private property, voluntary cooperation, hard work receiving its deserved reward, individual rights, principled opposition to suffocating statism (the welfare state at home, Marxism-Leninism abroad)—admired, even adored, this one-of-a-kind leader. Leftist ideologues, comprehending the existential threat she posed to their beliefs and impotent in the face of her moral and intellectual clarity, futilely denigrated her.

She fully deserved the label coined by a Soviet journalist—“Iron Lady.” Margaret Thatcher had courage, resoluteness, and a strength of character unmatched by any other democratic politician of her generation—Tory or Labour, in the UK and outside of it—combined with the dignity, poise, and refinement of a lady in the highest sense of the word.

For me, the passing of Lady Thatcher has a personal dimension beyond the Valentine card. I did some graduate work at Oxford (Shakespeare, not economics) in the mid-‘70s, and my time living in England was eye-opening. Like many, if not most, American undergraduates during the Vietnam War years, I had been inundated with anti-capitalist, social-engineering do-goodism. Living the dreary day-to-day reality of Britain’s stagnant, heavily socialized economy caused me to finally, emphatically, and completely forsake any belief in the efficacy of government economic control over economic activity. Economic prospects for middle-class or poor Brits appeared abysmal, nearly hopeless.

It also seemed to me that the US was on the same path as the UK, although, thankfully, several decades behind it. I remembering hoping that we would never find ourselves in similar circumstances; I also couldn’t see, at that point, how Britain could climb out of its self-imposed economic morass. What I had not counted on was the emergence of a leader as effective as Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs. Thatcher crafted one of the most successful national economic policy regimes of the 20th century. This was no small feat, considering that her academic training was in chemistry and later in law.

Thatcher had developed an understanding of the values and virtues of free enterprise as a child, when she worked with her father in his grocery store. Heavily influenced by the Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, she understood the importance of shrinking the footprint of the state by reducing government spending and stemming the depreciation of the currency. She proceeded to implement the necessary policies, despite the short-term pain the inevitably caused.

The core of her successful economic program was encapsulated in the word “privatization.”

The UK’s budget had been out of control. Major industries were bleeding the Treasury, creating a never-ending need for more revenues. The problem was, the heavier the tax burden on the private sector grew, and consequently, the more sluggish economic growth became. The leviathan state was crushing the life out of the UK’s economy.

Thatcher realized that government efforts to encourage state-subsidized industries to operate more efficiently were futile. She understood economic incentives and human psychology, stating, “Why should they be efficient? They had access to the Treasury purse.”

By privatizing state-owned businesses, Thatcher shrank government budget deficits in three ways: 1) By selling shares to the public, the government treasury received cash infusions. 2) The divested businesses ceased to receive subsidies, thereby reducing government expenditures. 3) Through the invigorating pressures of competition and the newly acquired need to strive for a profit, formerly money-losing enterprises trimmed fat, improved quality, and generated profits, generating additional revenues for the government.

Thatcher’s privatizations (she accomplished the privatization of approximately 2/3 of the UK’s nationalized firms during her tenure as PM) allowed her to reduce marginal tax rates on work and savings. Her tax policy, combined with an end to the inflationary policy of financing the formerly bloated government deficits with loose money policies, turbo-charged the UK’s Thatcher-led economic boom.

It is important to realize how close the UK came to abandoning Thatcher’s program before it had time to go into effect. She faced fervid denunciation from all the special interests whom she sought to remove from slurping at the public trough. Similarly, she had to contend with mutiny of some less-principled Conservatives who were more concerned about being liked than in mending the UK’s broken economy. Fearlessly, Thatcher withstood vilification, back-stabbing, and unpopularity. She was determined to revitalize the UK’s moribund economy. She knew there was no point in returning to the failed status quo ante.

What saved her political career and the eventual economic turnaround for the country was one of those historical “wild card” events—the Falkland Islands War against Argentina in the South Atlantic in 1982.

The unpopular Argentine junta sought to appeal to patriotic sentiment to divert attention from their unpopular domestic policies by sending the Argentine military to reclaim the Falklands from the UK. It would have been easy for a leader already beleaguered by economic stagnation to rationalize that those remote, almost insignificant islands weren’t worth fighting over, but there was a principle involved: The Falklanders (fewer than 2000 in number) considered themselves British citizens, and valued the rights that being a British citizen included.

Thatcher was not about to abandon those loyal patriots. She mobilized the British navy, which proceeded to engage in combat with the Argentine military, driving them out and securing possession of the Falklands. In doing so, Thatcher gained instant “street cred” with the aggressors and potential aggressors of the world, and she also restored British pride and won the reelection that was necessary to give her major economic reforms time enough to work. And work they did, setting the UK economy on an overall upward trajectory for the next quarter-century.

On another policy front, Mrs. Thatcher had reservations about the EU and the euro currency. Many political opportunists, including some in her own party, were seduced by the siren song of the EU and the euro currency, and they criticized Thatcher for being old-fashioned and backward-looking. Today, as we survey the lurching national crises and the ethically questionable machinations of undemocratic and unaccountable eurocrats, Thatcher’s reservations can now be regarded as prescient and prudent. Her compatriots should be grateful for her wisdom in keeping the UK from becoming entangled in that increasingly lawless and illiberal quagmire.

As we remember Margaret Thatcher, we Americans should be grateful for her strong support of President Reagan as he strove to eliminate the Soviet threat. Although there were some disagreements

between these two spirited, strong-minded leaders, their partnership was crucial. One of Lady Thatcher’s finest moments—one that should touch the hearts of all patriotic Americans—was her moving eulogy to Pres. Reagan. Already suffering some physical decline at that time, she recorded her remarks on camera so that her own infirmities would not detract from the proper focus on our own fallen leader. It’s great stuff. Watch it some time when you want to feel good.

One final thought about this great woman: Her climb up from humble origins to become one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century is in many ways a quintessentially American story. It resonates with us. Her ascent was achieved by diligence, persistence, and strength of conviction. I can’t tell you how many bright, promising undergraduate women to whom I have introduced Margaret Thatcher as one of my few heroes. I love the response in their eyes as the fire of hope and inspiration is kindled in them when I tell them the story of the grocer’s daughter who became one of the great Brits of all time and one of the most important national leaders of the 20th century.

Rest in peace, dear lady. You will be missed and remembered.

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  • Suzie

    Lady Thatcher did not come from nothing ("humble origins"). She cam e from something.

    The Obamas come from nothing.

    • Asher

      Lady Thatcher was a strong leader, who was unwilling to comprimise on values and leadership!

    • Cassandra

      You are right Suzie. I just watch recently a biography of Eleonore Roosevelt. And when I saw all the things she tried to alleviate the suffering of the American people During the depression I got very angry at Mouchelle obama. She has done nothing for this country. Nothing except spending more money on frivolous trips. She should be showing the way. She is the first lady and he is the president. So you are right it is not your origins that counts= it is your deeds.The Iron lady was a great lady and she knew the evil of communism. We now have a communist leader .God help us.

    • gee59

      The Odumbas have no values. Both are liars and thieves

  • BS77

    RIP to a great conservative leader. She is what Britain and the US need today…..

  • Mary Sue

    I heard in Britain, particularly Scotland, there's a lot of hate for her because of what she "did to" the Unions, and shutting down a bunch of coal mines that happened to be unprofitable.

    IRONY: Those same people that hate her for shutting down those coal mines years ago would have applauded the same action today as "preventing the release of excess carbon/greenhouse gases" and "slowing global warming"!

    So if they hate Thatcher, they're probably a Union-indoctrinated thug, or a Low Information Voter that was raised by Union Indoctrinated Workers who only care about their immediate fortunes, and not on the larger part Thatcher played that actually benefitted Britain as a whole.

    • Job

      The coal industry in the UK was technically brain dead and breathing through a ventilator (i.e. taxpayer subsidies) for a long time before Thatcher got hold of it. She simply turned off the life support machine.

      Sure, she made mistakes – nobody's perfect. But overall she was outstanding for the UK.

      • Mary Sue

        It's quite intriguing to observe the rage and flailing, years and years hence, of people who couldn't understand the circumstances they were in and blamed Thatcher for a problem that would have happened anyway or in an even worse way without whatever she did. Some people are so entirely self-absorbed (or their own family's fate absorbed) that it blocks out all rational discussion of the issues.

        You never see people even thinking about what she did for Council Housing (basically in britain before she got put in charge, NOBODY owned their own home practically! The government owned all the homes in the city, at least!)

  • Chezwick

    Early on in her tenure as PM, may British cities were burning as leftists and the poor protested her reforms. A lessor man or woman might have buckled under the pressure, but not Maggy. She faced down the rioters, she faced down the unions, she faced down the Argentinians, and she faced down the Soviets. She had bigger gonads than any man in Britain.

  • harrylies

    Thatcher helped bring Britain into the European Union. The Labour Party supported Britiah being a separate country. Thatcher realized this was idiocy. She had the ability to keep British nationalists voting for her with speeches. Some people are so silly.

    Nixon made the US and China business partners. Kennedy failed to do this. A moderrn-day version of Thatcher would be if President Romney had merged the US with Mexico and Canada. Obama cannot do this.

  • Mark Rogers

    One important post-war consensus between Labour and Tories was bucked by Mrs T.: as someone who had spent his childhood and youth in Hong Kong, when I had settled in London in 1976 I remember watching in bewilderment as she was vilifed by the cognoscenti for comparing the state to a home and reminded the electorate of what "every housewife knew": namely, that you couldn't spend money that you didn't have. How they laughed, the socialists and Keynesians of "right" and "left". What bewildered the then-apolitical Hong Konger was why this was considered such unspohisticated stuff. Unfortunately, though the UK was drawn back from a very dreadful brink by her stamina and fortitude, the lesson needs to be relearnt it would appear by every generation: the collapse of the euro is proof of that – and she was the one who sounded the warning against the way Europe was going. Who carries the handbag now?

  • MikeWood

    This is a great tribute to a great lady. Thank you. When I was a liberal in the 1980s I didn't like her but having now shaken off that particular disorder I can see the error of my ways. She saved our country from ruin. I wish we had the like of her to lead us now.

  • Asher

    We sure admired Mrs. Thatcher's leadership, determination, and strength. She took the heat so many times for being Conservative, but never never backed down…that is real fortitude! She really earned the name Iron Lady as we see with so many policy changes and cutting taxes. She always said, eventually the socialists run out of other people's money…. Amazing how the Left is in a rut, spend, regulate, and divide the people! NO wonder they never achieve anything positive!

  • STEVEN CHAVEZ

    "The 'IRON LADY' who helped 'tear down that' IRON CURTAIN!" SC

    Now you know why these Pro-Soviet KGB and Communist Party USA DUPES, FELLOW TRAVELERS, AND TRAITORS so despise Thatcher and Reagan, and ultimately, the United States.

    QUESTION: Did they really win the COLD WAR when a Soviet KGB DUPE is now President of the United States and his "Circle of Communists" run every department?

    • Loyal Achates

      Wha? Thatcher tried to keep the Berlin Wall UP so that Germany couldn't reunite and become an economic rival to Britain (which is what it is now).

      She also supported South African apartheid, used thug tactics to break up peaceful protests, and devastated the British economy.

      Just a tiny sample of her ill-deeds.

      • Wrong again

        You are an idiot!

        • Loyal Achates
          • reader

            You must have exhausted yourself by reading the headline. Because if you did bother to actually read Stroliov's transcripts, you'd be a moron not to realize that this headline does not match the content of the transcripts at all. She wanted to negotiate the conditions under which it would come down.

    • Loyal Achates

      Wha? Thatcher tried to keep the Berlin Wall UP so that Germany couldn't reunite and become an economic rival to Britain (which is what it is now).

      • gee59

        Typical leftist BS

      • Mary Sue

        nonsense.

      • UCSPanther

        Do yourself a favor and shut up before you make an even bigger idiot of yourself.

  • arishsahani

    Can ISlamic followers ever claim they can produce a daughter like Thatcher. They will produce only Jihadis to destroy the world not create.

  • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

    Journalist Claire Berlinski has written about Thatcher, and a profile of a recent controversy involving Berlinkski is located here: http://clarespark.com/2010/05/23/some-dirty-littl…. "Some dirty little secrets." The issue in the blog is the weight given to Soviet atrocities compared to Nazi ones, and I remind the reader that German historians were embattled over this question in the 1980s, thanks to rightist Ernst Nolte, who made that claim circa 1986, inciting "the historians debate" in Germany. I believe the emphasis may have given more ammunition to antisemites who believe that all communists are Jews.

  • Mary Sue

    BTW, look up the definition of "Chav" (british slang). If people are celebrating Thatcher's death, that is what they are, a bunch of Chavs.

    Rush pointed out the idiocy of some of these people hating Thatcher so much, because she's not been in power for come on 23 years now. If their lives are so miserable NOW, what the heck, who's been running the show the past 20 some odd years?

    • UCSPanther

      Chav: A sub-variant of the yob species…

      • Mary Sue

        exactly.

  • PamM

    Those of us in Britain who are old enough to remember the 1970s know what an enormous debt we all owe to Margaret Thatcher. I remember the 1970s very well; the rampant inflation, the endless strikes, the power cuts seemingly every winter, the rubbish piled in the streets, even the dead left unburied. There was a malaise in the air which was almost palpable. Britain was a country in what seemed to be a permanent decline into one of history's has beens. There was an acceptance among the establishment that the best that could be hoped for was to manage that decline.

    Margaret Thatcher changed all that by the sheer force of her will; by her determination to drag the country she loved back from the brink. She passionately believed in Britain and in its people's ability to achieve anything, and she succeeded in passing that belief on to them at a time when they had lost their confidence. I find it difficult to express in words how much I admired her. She was simply the outstanding figure of her generation, and those of us who were privileged to observe her knew that we had a leader of rare quality.

  • Luis C.

    Brilliant article. RIP to an extraordinary woman.

  • Suzanne

    What was so irritating to me was the movie that was recently made of her starring Meryl Streep. Of course, the Hollywood liberals could never come out and make a really positive movie about her. No, they had to take the movie from the point of view of her as an Alzheimer's patient.

  • pierce

    It is irritating to see so many far left loons denigrating this Lady. They are probably doing that because of the stature she held in the world, and because they probably don't have much self esteem. I really don't have much use for loons any way.

  • pierce

    Unfortunately there is one loon, who, well, could be included, as a hater of Margaret, and was a hater of George W, that is the ungrateful nerd Michael Moore. People like him are the scum of the earth.

    • johnnywoods

      Michael who?

  • Helaine Chersonsky

    Rest in Peace, Dear Lady Thatcher, May God grant you His eternal peace

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  • Ghostwriter

    I've got a feeling that now,Mrs. Thatcher is now in heaven,among some truly great people.