The very special relationship: The Thatcher revolution laid the foundations for the Reagan revolution in the United States
The American response to the death of Margaret Thatcher was worthy of the admiration she felt for the country whose free enterprise system, can-do attitude and staunch support for democracy — at least in the era of Ronald Reagan — she was determined that Britain would emulate. She has been revered here for many years, and her death brought an avalanche of affection and praise for her on both the Right and, much more surprisingly, the Left.
“Cheerio, Maggie — and Thanks!”, “Iron Will of the Iron Lady Rescued a Britain on the Brink”, “Our Fair Lady” and “Thatcher’s Victories” were the headlines in the New York Post, while the Wall Street Journal had “The World-Changing Margaret Thatcher” and “The Genius of Thatcherism will Endure” as well as an editorial entitled “Not for Turning” that concluded: “She was the right woman at the right time.”
Reporting how British leftists had held “Thatcher death parties” shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Dead, Dead, Dead!” and carrying banners saying “The Bitch is Dead”, the Post described it as a “shocking torrent of disdain” in its news column. Elsewhere in the conservative press she was described in headlines as America’s “Staunchest Cold War Ally”.
On the left of the political spectrum, the Daily News also ran headlines such as “Cheerio, Iron Lady”, “She Blazed Trail for Women Pols”, “Real Toughie and Cold War Ally” and an editorial entitled “The Iron Lady’s Mettle” which concluded that “she willed her beliefs into rejuvenating a country in decline” and “she made herself stateswoman for the ages”.
The far more left-wing New York Times had as its front-page headline “Iron Lady who set Britain on a New Course” and ran a huge, mostly admiring, obituary covering two entire pages. “Even some of her strongest critics accorded her a grudging respect,” it conceded, and proved the point itself in an editorial admitting that she “in general managed Britain’s global role better than her predecessors”. The paper observed how “the passage of time has drained much of the old anger and left behind her record of accomplishments.”
For the Left in America, those accomplishments included introducing disability benefits, standing up to the fascist dictatorship of General Galtieri in Argentina, being one of the first Western leaders to recognise a genuine reformist in Mikhail Gorbachev, showing what the New York Times described as “remarkable foresight on the dangers of climate change” and of course being the first woman prime minster of Britain, thereby creating a role model that American female politicians such as Dianne Feinstein and Hillary Clinton would use to show that they could be just as tough as men. The fact that Hillary — who has publicly likened herself to Lady Thatcher — is running full throttle for the Democratic nomination has also not harmed Lady Thatcher’s showing in the obituaries over here. Jamie Rubin, a former Clinton appointee to the State Department, told NBC of Thatcher that “conviction politicians last much longer in history” and quoted Bobby Kennedy’s remark: “If there’s no one in your way, you’re not getting anywhere.”
Unfortunately, when the media here want to attack a Briton like Margaret Thatcher, they tend to ask other Britons to do it. Martin Bashir kept harping on about her supposed “divisiveness” on NBC, for example, and put down her resignation entirely to the poll tax, as though her stance on the European Union had played no part at all. Meanwhile, A.C. Grayling began an article, “It is hard to think of a more divisive figure in British politics than Margaret Thatcher — at least since the days of the predecessor whom she most admired, the early-19th-century prime minister Lord Liverpool.” Quite apart from the fact that Margaret Thatcher admired Winston Churchill, William Pitt the Younger and the Duke of Wellington far more than Liverpool, it is easy to think of plenty of British politicians more divisive than Thatcher — all one needs is some historical knowledge. David Lloyd George had to escape a lynching for his anti-war views by dressing up as a policeman during the Boer War; poets wrote about urinating on the grave of Lord Castlereagh; Winston Churchill was widely reviled among organised labour during the General Strike; Aneurin Bevan was kicked down the front steps of White’s when he described Tories as “vermin”.
The theme of divisiveness was picked up by National Public Radio (NPR) in its news coverage when it gravely intoned that “Margaret Thatcher divided society”, and then in the very next segment, without any sense of irony, proceeded to report on President Obama’s plans for the sequester, as though American politics and society isn’t itself riven from top to bottom by his economic and healthcare plans. Yet it is a truth of Anglo-American politics that only right-wingers are ever attacked for the “divisiveness” of their policies. When have you ever heard Clement Attlee, for example, described as “divisive” because of his mass nationalisation of industry, extensions of the welfare state and forcing doctors and nurses to work for the state? For the Left, that’s not divisiveness — though it certainly was thought so in Britain at the time — but instead it’s merely considered statesmanship.
Notoriously of the Left, NPR attacked Margaret Thatcher relentlessly on the day of her death, with journalist Stacey Vanek Smith saying: “Hating Margaret wasn’t just a cultural response, it was a profitable industry”. The station put out a playlist of Thatcher-hating songs by bands like The Clash, The Jam, Pink Floyd and Morrissey. “We hated that woman,” they quoted some random north-easterner as saying. “We hated what she stood for — her legacy of destroying communities.” After a brief report of a Falkland Islander describing Thatcher as “our Winston Churchill”, NPR then reported how the Argentine press “gloated” over her death, saying that her dementia was the result of having “suffered the ravages of too many gin and tonics”.
In the gross tastelessness of such coverage, all NPR achieved was to emphasise once again how far to the Left it is in the American news media, consistently allowing editorial bias to impinge on its supposedly objective reportage.
By graceful contrast, President Obama himself was generous in his tribute to Lady Thatcher, which read: “The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. 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.” He even went on to praise the arch-enemy of his own youth, adding: “Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history — we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.” This was fine praise, and it was echoed right across the American political spectrum outside NPR.
Yet of course it is on the Right in America that Margaret Thatcher is most admired, indeed revered. If you want to see a splendid, larger-than-lifesize statue of her, go to the conservative-minded Hillsdale College in Michigan rather than to any British campus. The Heritage Foundation, America’s foremost conservative think-tank, which has a Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom (the only such organisation in the world to be named after her), put out a statement saying: “She was a leader who changed the course of history. In fact, the Thatcher revolution really laid the foundations for the Reagan revolution in the United States. She was a hugely successful politician because she was always a conviction politician. She always stood by conservative principles.”
It is said that prophets are without honour in their own lands, and from the British headlines — ”Maggie Dead in Bed at Ritz” (Sun), “The Woman who Divided a Nation” (Mirror), “She became harder than hard” (Guardian) — it might be true. (The Sun headline was particularly disgusting considering what she did for that newspaper during the Wapping struggle.)
Yet in her adoptive land of America, the place that she famously said brought “the solutions” to Europe and the world, Margaret Thatcher was fully appreciated, admired — and even loved.