The Iron Lady’s transformation
The Russians gave Margaret Thatcher the nickname “Iron Lady.” She took it as a gift. Her determination and willpower were legendary. She told an American president not to go wobbly, but seemed to have no wobbly bits herself.
Her determination has been confused with domination in many of her obituaries. She’s famed for rescuing Britain, at least temporarily, from socialist malaise by privatizing industries and breaking union strangleholds, but many of her media eulogies sound like farewells to a dictator who got results. Imagine the proverbial man from Mars comparing accounts of Mrs. Thatcher’s passing with those of Hugo Chavez’ death. Which leader would our extraterrstrial visitor conclude was more dictatorial, more intersted in imposing thier vision upon The People without regard for their natural freedoms?
It’s evidence of media bias, obviously – an effort by Thatcher’s defeated political opponents, and their children, to write the final drafts of history. American editorialists, meanwhile, are taking bank shots off Thatcher to pelt Ronald Reagan with the 8-balls of revisionism.
Even the Fox News story about the Iron Lady’s passing includes this comment about her relationship with Reagan: “It was a political union of opposites: Thatcher had none of Reagan’s disarming charm, and he lacked her appetite for hard work and devotion to detail.” Not to take anything away from Thatcher’s legendary energy, but Reagan lacked an appetite for hard work, did he? How does Reagan’s work ethic stack up to, say, the current occupant of the White House?
More on the life of Margaret Thatcher from Human Events:
But there’s something interesting about the world-view of Thatcher’s post-mortem critics, something deeper than personal animosity or rote games of “Pin the Barbed Tail on the Conservative.” It’s the curious ideological inversion that paints compulsive socialism as the noble quest for liberty, while the retraint of government is viewed as callous and dictatorial.
Here’s another bit from that Fox News piece:
During 11 bruising years as prime minister, Thatcher transformed her country by a ruthless dedication to free markets and infuriated European allies. She transferred large chunks of the economy from the state hands to private ownership.
“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” she once said, according to Reuters.
Is “ruthless” really the right word to describe her dedication to free-market reforms? Is any champion of Big Government ever going to be described as “ruthless,” even after they run out of other people’s money, and rule increasingly through direct command? When government power grows, the process is spoken of as a bold “transformation,” and we hear much talk about the compassionate “vision” of its architects. Was the Iron Lady’s transformation of Britain any less bold and compassionate?
Even when privatization and de-regulation work wonders, the quest to find black clouds of “unfariness” within the silver linings continues:
At home, she sold huge, loss-making state-owned companies, from Jaguar to national utilities to British Airways. Many became profitable.
For the employed majority of Britons, living standards rose dramatically, but the gap widened between the well-off and the poor.
The late Peter Jenkins, a leading liberal political commentator throughout the Thatcher years, once wrote that she had “changed the political map and put her country on its feet again.”
“She did all this with ruthlessness and much injustice and at a high cost in human misery, but she did it,” he said.
Oh, so that’s where the “ruthless” stuff comes from. Well, Prime Minister Thatcher managed to save the British economy, bring moribund State-run enterprises back to life, and keep civil society running, but there was more income inequality, so maybe she wasn’t so great after all. Who needs the rising tide that lifts all boats, when the endless leaky pumps of socialism can ensure all boats are sinking with roughly equal speed? Except for those with well-connected captains, of course.
The belief that government’s resources “belong to The People” causes no end of confusion and ruin. It masks political greed as altruism, while those who would return money and freedom to individuals are portrayed as thieves looting the public treasury. Take a look at the news from the U.K. at the time of Thatcher’s rise to Prime Minister – or the news from America today – and ask yourself what sense of ownership any indiviudal citizen should feel toward those neutron stars of government taxation and debt. Even if State-run enterprises were not failing, their portrayal as public resources “owned by all” would be grotesque.
But it’s a grotesque system, abetted by a media that prefers covering titanic initiatives launched by “compassionate” politicians who deliver great speeches from one convenient central location. Galloping across the countryside to report on thousands of private business success stories is much harder work. Connecting the general benefits of industry to the lawful pursuit of profit requires imagination. What has improved the lives of the poor in any Western nation more: the fruits of competitive private industry, or big payouts from the welfare state?
Margaret Thatcher was able to see both the moral and practical superiority of capitalism and economic liberty, in an age when the moral superiority of government control was supposed to be accepted without serious question, no matter how badly the State squandered the resources it claimed. It’s a vision that will stand the test of time. She said and did things that will never be forgotten, and when her ideological adversaries complete their decades-long project to prove her right… and have completely run out of other people’s money to spend… a new generation will reclaim the intellectual treasures she left for them.
Update: J.P. Freire thoughtfully prepared some Cliffs’ Notes for my hypothetical “man from Mars,” contrasting how the Associated Press covered the deaths of Margaret Thatcher and Hugo Chavez. Guess which one is described as a “tyrant” who “ruled” by “imposing her will.” Oops, did I give too much away with “imposing her will?”