Margaret Thatcher — The Iron Lady
The Legacy of Principled Character and Leadership
In the 1970s, as socialist policies choked Western economies, including those of the United States and United Kingdom, two bright stars appeared on the horizon -- and they would rekindle the flame of Liberty and economic freedom around the world. The two were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan.
“If justice, good faith, honor, gratitude and all the other qualities which enoble the character of a nation, and fulfill the ends of Government be the fruits of our establishments, the cause of Liberty will acquire a dignity and lustre, which it has never yet enjoyed, and an example will be set, which can not but have the most favorable influence on the rights of Mankind.” –James Madison (1783)
When our children were young, on occasional clear and crisp fall nights, we would huddle together on lawn chairs behind the house, align our feet to the south, and fix our gaze on the heavens. Our mission was, ostensibly, to spot passing satellites and shooting stars, but what that time together really afforded was uninterrupted conversation about things that matter most.
Sometimes we would witness the rare atmospheric entry of a massive meteor, which would light up the sky in a streak lasting several seconds. Contemplating the origin of that space rock increased our respect for the size and complexity of the universe, and its Creator.
We never saw more than one of those brilliant meteors on any one evening watch, much less two at the same time. But there are extraordinary moments when the space-time continuum aligns in order for two remarkable events to occur simultaneously. Such was the case in the late 1970s.
As socialist policies choked Western economies, including those of the United States and United Kingdom, two bright stars appeared on the horizon – and they would rekindle the flame of Liberty and economic freedom around the world.
In 1975, these conservative leaders emerged amid the economic and social rubble left by decades of statism. On different sides of the Atlantic, they boldly set about to reverse the course of history.
The two were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (UKPM from 1979 to 1990) and President Ronald Reagan (POTUS from 1981 to 1989).
Proverbs 27:17 notes, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Such was the case with Thatcher and Reagan.
In their respective nations, they set about to restore freedom using very similar templates: constricting government growth, regulation and taxation; promoting free enterprise and national defense; and advocating traditional Judeo-Christian values, which were and remain the foundation for Liberty.
In 2004, Mrs. Thatcher delivered a succinct and moving eulogy for her friend and closest political ally, Ronald Reagan. Among other things, she noted: “Ronald Reagan … had firm principles. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively. When the world threw problems at the White House, he was not baffled, or disorientated, or overwhelmed. He knew almost instinctively what to do. … When his allies came under Soviet or domestic pressure, they could look confidently to Washington for firm leadership. And when his enemies tested American resolve, they soon discovered that his resolve was firm and unyielding.”
On Monday, Margaret Thatcher departed this earthly life at age 87.
Mrs. Thatcher was called the “Iron Lady” by the Soviet old guard, a moniker she earned for her steadfast defense of Liberty and abject rejection of socialism. But like Reagan, her temperament, strength and resolve were more akin to case-hardened carbon steel.
As with Reagan, she was a leader who often exhibited sharp wit. But behind their banter existed innate brilliance and formidable tenacity, whether facing down political adversaries or leaders of the Evil Empire. They were both courageous.
Wondering what Reagan might have said of Mrs. Thatcher had he survived her, I recalled a tribute he wrote in 1989 extolling the leadership and character of his friend and ally toward the end of her tenure as prime minister.
He wrote in part: “[Margaret Thatcher] demonstrated two great qualities. The first was that she had thought seriously about how to revive the British economy and entered office with a clear set of policies to do so. She brought down inflation by controlling the money supply, and she began removing the controls, subsidies, and regulations that kept business lazy. Her second great quality was the true grit of a true Brit (or perhaps I should say, of a true-blue Brit). We both realized that our policies wouldn’t solve such deep-rooted problems overnight. The first effects, in the world recession of 1981-82, were painful. I remember meeting her in Washington at a time when people in both our countries were calling for a change of course. She never wavered. And she was proved right by events. … Margaret Thatcher – this great lady has not only served her country well, she has served the free world well. She is truly a great statesman. So much so that I’ll correct what I just said: She is a great stateswoman holding her own among all the statesmen of the world.”
I have read most of Mrs. Thatcher’s notable speeches, and prize a couple of signed editions of her works, including “Statecraft.” As with Ronald Reagan, it is very difficult to pick just a few gems from so many of her brilliant remarks, but I find these memorable.
Reflecting on an early job application as a chemist, Mrs. Thatcher noted that she failed to get the job, and later would discover why. The notation on her application concluded, “This woman is headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated!”
Indeed, and those attributes would eventually take her much further than a career as a chemist or barrister.
As Secretary of Education in 1973, she said, “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.”
Upon assuming leadership of the UK’s Conservative Party in 1975, she said, “I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician. … Consensus? Consensus is the negation of leadership!”
In 1976 she said famously (and prophetically, given the present course of our own country), “[The Labour Party] has made the biggest financial mess that any government’s ever made in this country. … Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. … Then they start to nationalize everything.”
“My job is to stop Britain going red.” (1977)
After her election in 1979, from the steps of Number 10 Downing Street she quoted from St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
In 1980, as the world economy continued its decline, she appealed to her countrymen – much as Reagan did in 1981 – with steadfast resolve: “If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, a great nation we shall be, and shall remain. So, what can stop us from achieving this? What then stands in our way? The prospect of another winter of discontent? I suppose it might. But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming, slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of common sense. … [W]e shall not be diverted from our course. To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the ‘U-turn’, I have only one thing to say: "You turn if you want to. The Lady’s not for turning.”
Clearly, Mrs. Thatcher set the standard, and she and Reagan would tag team for Liberty in the years that followed, setting the course for economic recovery, opportunity and prosperity.
“No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” (1980)
“My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time…” (1981)
In 1984, as the USSR began to implode, Mrs. Thatcher said of the moderate incoming General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.” Reagan followed that lead.
That same year, she would, as Reagan had before her, survive an assassination attempt: An IRA bomb detonated at 0300 in her hotel, which was hosting the Conservative Party conference. Hours later she would deliver a speech, as scheduled.
“Socialists cry ‘Power to the people,’ and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean – power over people, power to the State.” (1986)
Asked about why private insurance should replace Britain’s socialized health care service, Mrs. Thatcher replied, “I insure to enable me to go into hospital on the day I want; at the time I want, and with a doctor I want.”
In 1988, she told the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, “We must not profess the Christian faith and go to church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour, but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ.”
On the formation and centralization of European Union power, Thatcher said, “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
During her last parliamentary debate in 1990, she engaged a couple of socialists who challenged her economic policies. They were badly outgunned.
“We rescued Britain from the parlous state to which socialism had brought it,” declared Mrs. Thatcher. “Mr. Speaker, all levels of income are better off than they were in 1979. But what the honorable Member [Mr. Hughes] is saying is that he would rather the poor were poorer, provided the rich were less rich. That way you will never create the wealth for better social services, as we have. And what a policy. Yes, he would rather have the poor poorer, provided the rich were less rich. That is the Liberal policy.”
Next victim: “I think that the honorable Gentleman [Mr. Sillars] knows that I have the same contempt for his socialist policies as the people of East Europe, who’ve experienced it, have for theirs. I think I must have hit the right nail on the head when, when I pointed out that the logic of those policies are they’d rather have the poor poorer. … You do not create wealth and opportunity that way. You do not create a property-owning democracy that way.”
Here are her final words as prime minister, from the door of Number Ten Downing: “We’re leaving Downing Street for the last time after eleven-and-a-half wonderful years, and we’re very happy that we leave the United Kingdom in a very, very much better state than when we came here eleven-and-a-half years ago.”
Indeed, and her words dovetailed with those of President Reagan in his Farewell Address: “I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”
Mrs. Thatcher departed office, as did President Reagan, after establishing the foundation for the longest period of economic growth in the 20th century. But, as has tragically been the case throughout history, in the Cycle of Democracy, prosperity is followed by complacency and apathy, which leads to dependence and tyranny, requiring great faith and courage to renew the struggle for Liberty.
The obligatory official White House statement reads, “As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best. And as an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the cold war and extend freedom’s promise.”
Reagan and Thatcher shared a common leadership trait, which was central to their efforts to “restore the confidence and pride” of their respective countrymen. That trait would give them the ability to repel socialists and restore economic prosperity, which in turn won them landslide re-elections across broad constituencies.
That trait? They believed in the potential good of all of their individual countrymen, not the special interest constituencies necessary for maintaining power. That trait is antithetical to the Socialist Democratic Party’s thematic divide and concur strategy for maintaining power, which thrives on complacency, apathy and dependency.
In contrast to the Reagan and Thatcher economic recovery models, which cut taxes and regulations, and contained government growth, the sitting socialist administration’s $3.8 trillion budget, released this week, makes no real cuts in government spending, demands an additional $580 billion tax increase, and advances 27,000 pages of new medical regulations choking economic growth.
What would Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan do?
(For video tributes to Mrs. Thatcher, see our YouTube page.)