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Thatcher Put the "Great" Back in Great Britain

Thatcher Put the "Great" Back in Great Britain

By Jack Kelly - April 14, 2013

Last Monday Margaret Thatcher was reunited with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, her partners in liberating Europe from Communism. She was 87.

Prime minister of Britain for nearly 12 tumultuous years, "Margaret Thatcher had more impact on the world than any woman ruler since Catherine the Great of Russia," contends British historian Paul Johnson.

The daughter of a grocer, she won a scholarship to Oxford, where she earned a degree in chemistry. After taking a law degree, Mrs. Thatcher entered politics and was elected to Parliament in 1959. Her friendship with Ronald Reagan began shortly after she became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.

They were drawn to each other by their shared values and middle-class upbringing, said Reagan aide Peter Hannaford. "From the moment they first met, it is as if they had been friends and allies for years."

She was one of a kind, Mr. Hannaford said. "We shall not see her like again," said Conrad Black.

I don't think Margaret Thatcher would have agreed. Her political ideas were simply a reflection of middle-class common sense, she said.

"My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with," Mrs. Thatcher said. "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; support the police."

And her policies were illuminated by her Christian faith.

"When you've relieved poverty and ignorance and disease, if you are not a Christian you think that sorts out the problems of the world," Mrs. Thatcher told the Catholic Herald. "You and I know it doesn't, because there is still the real religious problem in the choice between good and evil."

Having grown up in Britain in the 1930s and endured bombing by the Luftwaffe, she learned firsthand the folly of ignoring evil, trying to appease it and neglecting defenses.

The one-word description of Margaret Thatcher which sets her apart is "indomitable" (impossible to subdue or defeat). In an age of plastic men, she was the Iron Lady.

"You do not achieve anything without trouble, ever," she said.

When you're indomitable, you surprise people, as Margaret Thatcher surprised former Prime Minister Edward Heath when she ousted him as Tory leader, as she surprised the Argentine junta by responding to its aggression in the Falklands with military force.

Long the "sick man" of Europe, the British economy was on the verge of collapse when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979. Garbage was piled high in city streets because discontented sanitation workers wouldn't pick it up. Britain's decline was "irreversible," intellectuals thought.

The British economy was Europe's strongest when Mrs. Thatcher left office in 1990. Tyrants trembled when the British lion roared. "She put the 'great' back in Great Britain," said biographer John Blundell.

The United States is a dying country, according to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Massive debt, the scofflaw behavior of the Obama administration and media bias doom the constitutional republic they've loved, many conservatives fret.

Things were much worse in Britain in 1979, because Britain had not just the incipient socialism of Obamacare, but, since 1945, full-blown socialism. Tax rates were confiscatory. Compared with the power of British unions then, our public employee unions seem frail and weak.

Most Tories had accommodated themselves to this sorry state of affairs. Not the Iron Lady. She took on the unions, curbed their excessive power. She cut tax rates and reprivatized basic industries. Her ideological triumph was so complete that to win a national election, the Labor Party had to repudiate doctrinaire socialism.

Some leftists have responded to her death with the churlishness we've come to expect. Margaret Thatcher would have worn their vitriolic abuse as a badge of honor.

"I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left," she said.

The Iron Lady would have as little patience with conservative pessimists here as she did with Tory "wets" then, I suspect. You'll be surprised by how much and how fast things can change if you stick to your principles, I think she'd say. You'll prevail if you don't "go wobbly."

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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