Americans were surprised—well, shocked, really—to see the public manifestations of hatred in England when Margaret Thatcher died. There were images of people celebrating in the streets, tweets and blog posts gleefully predicting damnation, even the Rt. Hon. Glenda Jackson, M.P., on a verbal rampage in the House of Commons. This seemed a curiously ugly response to the death of a frail woman in her late eighties.
On the one hand, THE SCRAPBOOK was shocked, too. We are unabashed admirers of Lady Thatcher and think the question of her historic influence and distinction is long settled. But we also tend to be a little more publicly polite on this side of the Atlantic: Most Americans find the rough and tumble of the British Parliament— rude interruptions, derisive laughter, cries of “resign!”—a little disconcerting, very different from the generally sober (and slightly dull) atmosphere of Congress.
On the other hand, if you take a close look at the anti-Thatcher demonstrators, you would find yourself, as THE SCRAPBOOK was, oddly comforted. This was hardly a ground- swell of British public opinion; in fact, quite the opposite. The great majority of Britons seemed appropriately saddened, certainly respectful, even nostalgic. Margaret Thatcher’s political opponents, with one or two exceptions, gave the lady her due, graciously acknowledging her importance to modern Britain. By contrast, the demonstrators—bearded anarchists, earnest cranks, what used to be called juvenile delinquents—reminded THE SCRAPBOOK of Lady Thatcher’s remark that the character and language of her most violent critics ssured her she was doing the right thing. It is probably true that the I-hate-Thatcher spectacles were evidence of change in British life: When the other “controversial” prime minister of the past century died—that would be David Lloyd George in 1945—such public demonstrations of bumptiousness and malice would have been inconceivable. But trends in public manners evolve, and wax and wane. Go back another century, to 1830, and the greatest British hero of the time, the Duke of Wellington, was physically attacked in public, and his house in London besieged by a mob, because of his politics.
Wellington, of course, was known as the Iron Duke. From the Iron Duke to the Iron Lady, there will always be mud at the feet of giants.
Embattled New Jersey senator Bob Menendez struck these four statements from a Senate resolution honoring the late Margaret Thatcher:
Whereas Baroness Margaret Thatcher in 1984 survived an assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army in Brighton, United Kingdom, and declared that ‘‘all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail’’...
Whereas Baroness Margaret Thatcher in 1982 led United Kingdom efforts to liberate the Falkland Islands after they had been invaded and occupied by the Government of Argentina...
Our pieces on Margaret Thatcher in this week's issue elicited many responses. Among the most eloquent and powerful was this email to the boss from a senior Hill staffer who deals with GOP members on national security issues, written, the staffer says, with "spontaneous passion while I was walking to meet a friend for lunch Saturday." It's reproduced here with the staffer's permission.
I cannot claim to have been an intimate of Margaret Thatcher’s. But I can claim to have known her on several levels—as a prime minister from whom I learned to put the “political” back into “political economy,” as a woman who fancied both her whisky and her sweet desserts, and as one who made it possible for me and others to withstand the thuggishness of the pickets attempting to block the introduction of new technology into Britain’s newspaper industry.
In his book Manliness, Harvey Mansfield remarks that “The mightiest woman of our time, Margaret Thatcher, is no model for feminists, partly because of her conservative opinions, of course, but also because her renowned insensitivity makes them uneasy.” No surprise there. But does her “renowned insensitivity”—which is Mansfield’s ironic way of saying she was clear-eyed, hardheaded, and direct—also make today’s conservative politicians uneasy? Apparently so. Why else do so few take her as a model?
I was at a reception at the British embassy here in Washington in the early 1990s, I believe, when I was introduced to Margaret Thatcher by John O’Sullivan, her friend and former “Special Adviser.” Gertrude Himmelfarb, he told her, had recently delivered the Margaret Thatcher Lecture in Tel Aviv on a subject dear to her, Victorian values. “But of course, I know Gertrude,” she replied, “we’ve met before. And what a great subject, Victorian values.
And now the last of them is gone. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II—three who won the Cold War and, it isn't too much to say, saved the West (at least for a while!)—are no longer with us. Their examples remain.