Margaret Thatcher, RIP

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Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at the White House

A world-changer has left this world for a better one. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died today at age 87.

I don't remember when I started paying attention to British politics; sometime in the mid-'70s, I imagine. I had a shortwave radio, and I loved tuning in to hear the BBC World Service.

I remember news stories about strikes paralyzing the country and the inevitable decline of Britain from superpower to third-rate backwater. Britain's decline was part of a broader sense of decline and malaise throughout the western world. Communism was on the march abroad, and the socialist ratchet was at work at home, moving us toward a "new normal" -- less prosperous, less free, less secure.

The Conservative Party's victory in 1979, under Margaret Thatcher's leadership, was a harbinger of hope. Here was a leader unafraid to challenge the status quo of decline and despair in her own country and around the world. If Thatcher could win and govern successfully in Britain, there was hope of a conservative resurgence in America, too.

Pondering Thatcher's resolve to dispel the gloom of the 1970s with the light of liberty ought to encourage us that it can happen again, if we will persevere as she did.

Thatcher and President Reagan were willing to identify the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire and oppose it as such. Just a bit more than 10 years after Thatcher's first election, the Berlin Wall fell and European Communism collapsed. They were not ashamed of Anglo-American exceptionalism. The world needed the principles of liberty under law that were rooted at Runnymede.

There are many tributes to Thatcher on the web, beginning with the obituary from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Last January, when the Hollywood movie about her life came out, I put together a collection of videos and quotations of the real Margaret Thatcher. Conservative Home's Tory Diary has a running collection of tributes to Thatcher as does the Telegraph.

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan does a fine job of summing up Thatcher's transformational achievements, contrasting them with his own childhood memories of pre-Thatcher Britain:

I'm not sure you can appreciate the magnitude of Margaret Thatcher's achievement without some knowledge of the calamity that immediately preceded it.... What I do recall, though, was the sense of despair. Again and again, I would hear adults casually say "Britain is finished"....

These were the years of the three-day week, of prices and incomes policies, of double-digit inflation, of constant strikes, of power cuts. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the United Kingdom had been outperformed by every European economy. "Britain is a tragedy - it has sunk to borrowing, begging, stealing until North Sea oil comes in," said Henry Kissinger. The Wall Street Journal was blunter: "Goodbye, Great Britain: it was nice knowing you".

Margaret Thatcher, almost alone, refused to accept the inevitability of decline. She was determined to turn the country around, and she succeeded. Inflation fell, strikes stopped, the latent enterprise of a free people was awakened. Having lagged behind for a generation, we outgrew every European country in the 1980s except Spain (which was bouncing back from an even lower place). As revenues flowed in, taxes were cut and debt was repaid, while public spending - contrary to almost universal belief - rose.

In the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher showed the world that a great country doesn't retreat forever. And, by ending the wretched policy of one-sided d├ętente that had allowed the Soviets to march into Europe, Korea and Afghanistan, she set in train the events that would free hundreds of millions of people from what, in crude mathematical terms, must be reckoned the most murderous ideology humanity has known.

Hannan notes, too, the prescience of the principled stand that led to her ouster:

Still, it can't be repeated too often: the immediate cause of Margaret Thatcher's toppling was that she opposed Britain's membership of the euro. Who called that one right?

Historian Paul Johnson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, focuses on Thatcher's effect on British business:

The 1970s marked the climax of Britain's postwar decline, in which "the English disease"--overweening trade-union power--was undermining the economy by strikes and inflationary wage settlements. The Boilermakers Union had already smashed the shipbuilding industry. The Amalgamated Engineers Union was crushing what was left of the car industry. The print unions were imposing growing censorship on the press. Not least, the miners union, under the Stalinist Arthur Scargill, had invented new picketing strategies that enabled them to paralyze the country wherever they chose.

Attempts at reform had led to the overthrow of the Harold Wilson Labour government in 1970, and an anti-union bill put through by Heath led to the destruction of his majority in 1974 and its replacement by another weak Wilson government that tipped the balance of power still further in the direction of the unions. The general view was that Britain was "ungovernable."...

Johnson describes the legislation Thatcher passed to rein in the unions' destructive behavior, simplify the tax code and reduce tax rates, and returning inefficient state-owned industries to the private sector, reforms that echoed around the world.

More important than all these specific changes, however, was the feeling Thatcher engendered that Britain was again a country where enterprise was welcomed and rewarded, where businesses small and large had the benign blessing of government, and where investors would make money.

MORE:

Andrew Roberts draws lessons from Thatcher's legacy for today

The Telegraph has a video reel of Thatcher's most memorable House of Commons appearances.

Thatcher's Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, remembers his old adversary and her role in ending the Cold War.

The Tablet notes Thatcher's support for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, a relationship that began when she was 12, working with her older sister raise money to help a Jewish girl escape Austria in 1938 and continued through her 33 years representing the Jewish entrepreneurs of Finchley.

Via Jim Geraghty, video of Thatcher in 1984 with actors Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, stars of the political series, "Yes, Minister," performing a sketch she wrote.

At a Conservative party conference in 1989, Thatcher compares the Liberal Democrats' new bird-like symbol to... a dead parrot:

Columnist Mark Steyn writes Thatcher thought Britain was worth fighting for, but worries that her time in office was only "a magnificent but temporary interlude in a great nation's bizarre, remorseless self-dissolution."

In Britain in the Seventies, everything that could be nationalized had been nationalized, into a phalanx of lumpen government monopolies all flying the moth-eaten flag: British Steel, British Coal, British Airways, British Rail ... . The government owned every industry - or, if you prefer, "the British people" owned every industry. And, as a consequence, the unions owned the British people. The top income tax rate was 83 percent, and on investment income, 98 percent. No electorally viable politician now thinks the government should run airlines and car plants and that workers should live their entire lives in government housing. But what seems obvious[ly wrong] to all in 2013 was the bipartisan consensus four decades ago, and it required an extraordinary political will for one woman to drag her own party, then the nation, and, subsequently, much of the rest of the world, back from the cliff edge.

Michelle Malkin remembers Margaret Thatcher with some lengthy excerpts from her 1975 speech to the Conservative Party conference, following her selection as leader of the party.

The Hope for America blog has eight great moments from Margaret Thatcher's career from which modern American conservatives should learn. Here she is in 1987, after her third general election victory, recalling those who said in 1975 that such a feat was impossible for a conservative.

Mr. President, 12 years ago, I first stood on this platform as leader of the Conservative Party. Now one or two things have changed since 1975. In that year, we were still groaning under Labour's so-called social contract. People said we should never be able to govern again. Remember how we'd all been lectured about political impossibility. You couldn't be a conservative and sound like a conservative and win an election, they said. And you certainly couldn't win an election and act like a conservative and win another election. And this was absolutely beyond dispute: You couldn't win two elections and go on acting like a conservative and yet win a third election.

THE TRIBUTES CONTINUE:

Oleg Atbashian, proprietor of the People's Cube, tells his personal story of encountering Thatcher's words as a young man in Ukraine, listening to the BBC and Voice of America on his shortwave set -- when the Soviets weren't jamming the broadcasts. He explains how news of Thatcher's reforms shattered his state-sponsored illusions about the west.

Gradually, the news sank in: if Britain was indeed a socialist state, then everything we were told about the outside world was a lie. And not just any lie -- it was an inconceivably monstrous, colossal lie, which our Communist Party and the media thoroughly maintained, apparently, to prevent us from asking these logical questions: if the Brits also had free, cradle-to-grave entitlements like we did, then why were we still fighting the Cold War? And what was the purpose of the Iron Curtain? Was it to stop us from collectively surrendering to the Brits, so that their socialist government could establish the same welfare state on our territory -- only with more freedom and prosperity minus the Communist Party?

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?

And wasn't it exactly what Margaret Thatcher was doing as a prime minister?

Atbashian designed an "IRON" poster with Thatcher's photo (a parody of the Obama Hope poster); the museum in her hometown of Grantham, Lincolnshire, is using it now to raise funds to build a statue of Thatcher. He notes that Thatcher succeeded in politics without the benefit of the kind of cult of personality that President Obama enjoys:

And yet she exerted great influence over people. She did it merely by being who she was: informed, unwavering in the face of adversity, brave in defending the truth, and confident in her belief that the free markets are a force for good, while socialism is a force for evil. A few Western leaders may have agreed with her in private, but they didn't have the courage to say it openly in the twisted moral climate brought on their countries by the false promise of socialism.

What Thatcher showed to these men is that when one has no fear of speaking the truth and possesses enough moral conviction to push back, miracles happen. Britain's resurrection as an economic powerhouse was one of them.

Her message came through despite all the hostile efforts to jam it around the world, shattering not just the Western establishment's media filters, but the Iron Curtain itself.

It still resonates; if only today's leaders could listen.

UPDATE 2013/04/17:

The Telegraph reports that Thatcher planned her funeral service to be an expression of her Christian faith, choosing the readings and hymns and excluding a political eulogy:

Cynical detractors who expect Lady Thatcher's funeral to be used for the Conservatives' political gain may be surprised (and perhaps disappointed privately) to learn that there will be no political eulogy. Although the occasion has been code-named Operation True Blue, the sole object of worship will be God, not free market ideology. Lady Thatcher is said to have been concerned that her funeral would become the subject of political debate. The woman who relished an opportunity for confrontation was, for once, resolved to avoid it. Her funeral would not be Conservative; it would be Christian.

The service included the hymns "To Be a Pilgrim" and "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," the anthem, "Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of Our Hearts," by Henry Purcell, and the patriotic hymn, "I Vow to Thee, My Country." Prime Minister David Cameron read from John 14 ("In my Father's house there are many mansions") and granddaughter Amanda Thatcher read from Ephesians 6 ("Put on the whole armor of God").

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 8, 2013 11:08 PM.

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