Remembering Margaret Thatcher
April 10, 2013
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Monday’s news that Lady Thatcher had passed away brought both sadness and yet also happy memories for Callista and me.
We had spent a long dinner in London with Lady Thatcher and her husband Sir Dennis and two of our closest friends, Gay and Stanley Gaines. It was memorable because every contact with Lady Thatcher was memorable. I mean that literally; I cannot remember an occasion over a 20 year period where being with her failed to instruct, inspire and educate.
Lady Thatcher was incredibly smart and she was incredibly driven.
Her intelligence was apparent in her degree from Oxford in chemistry (her senior year focused on X-ray crystallography, maybe the only elected official to have done so in any country). She went on to become a lawyer, and her career was defined by hard work, applied intelligence, and enormous courage.
(As an aside for Downton Abbey lovers, her father, Alfred Roberts, served as mayor of Grantham.)
Lady Thatcher’s courage came in part from her experience as a 15 year old watching Winston Churchill save Great Britain from the Nazi onslaught when any reasonable person would have accepted defeat and sued for an armistice. She knew that raw courage mattered at historic moments.
She also had a deep belief in moral truth and in historic necessity. The best book I have read on the underlying lessons of Lady Thatcher’s leadership is Claire Berlinski’s There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. Berlinski makes the case that Thatcher as opposition leader in the 1970s came to the conclusion that socialism was immoral and the coal miners’ union was a direct threat to democratic self government. She entered office in 1979 determined to morally defeat socialism and practically defeat the coal miners’ union (which she did in 1984).
The Thatcher victory of 1979 was very important to the American Conservative movement and to the Republican Party. Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Brock had gone to London for election night and came home dazzled by the effectiveness of the Thatcher campaign in discrediting the Left. He brought a team of advertisers over to share with us what they had done and how they had done it. As a young Republican Congressman, Brock invited me to be part of this working group and I found it extraordinarily educational. Much of our 1980 effort was inspired and based upon the Thatcher effort a year earlier.
Thatcher was the second on the scene of the great triumvirate which would defeat Communism. In 1978 Pope John Paul II became the fist non-Italian in over 400 years and the first Pole in history to become Pope. His election was a direct challenge to Soviet atheism. One month after Prime Minister Thatcher was elected (May 4, 1979), the Pope went to Poland for a nine day pilgrimage which directly challenged Soviet control of Eastern Europe. (See our movie Nine Days that Changed the World about that pilgrimage.) Eighteen months after Thatcher’s election, Ronald Reagan won the Presidency. It is easy for an American to forget that he actually came into office third of the triumvirate.
Thatcher had earned the term “the Iron Lady” from Pravda three years before she became Prime Minister. Her unrelenting opposition to Communism was a major feature of her government and made her an ally of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II in defeating the Soviet Empire and leading to its collapse and disappearance.
The world would have been very different without Margaret Thatcher.
Every citizen can learn from her condemnation of socialism and her critique of big government.
Every political leader can learn from her courage.
We will miss her but we will never forget her.