Mrs. T’s example: conviction politics

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Daniel Orazio, Commentary Editor

One of my fondest memories from high school is of impersonating Margaret Thatcher in a “roundtable” discussion of important historical figures. The course was Modern European History, and every so often throughout the semester we would give a few days over to group discussions in which each student played the part of a different personage from the period we were then studying. Although I did not come to school dressed in drag, I think I did a pretty good job of conveying Lady Thatcher’s philosophy of government. For example, I blamed my late arrival to the discussion (I was congenitally late to class during high school) on “your incompetent, socialist American train system—Amtrak.”

Photo courtesy of icnetwork.co.ukMargaret Thatcher learned self-confidence and strong principle from her father, alderman and lay preacher.
Photo courtesy of icnetwork.co.uk
Margaret Thatcher learned self-confidence and strong principle from her father, alderman and lay preacher.

As I recall, by this time (my senior year), I had shed most of my libertarian sensibilities and was growing comfortable in calling myself a conservative. I quite naturally embraced the life and record of Margaret Thatcher, one of 20th-century Britain’s few conservative success stories. “That’s Mrs. Thatcher, to you,” I would always say, insisting on respect for the great woman—especially from the leftists around me—to the continual amusement of the teacher of that history class.

If you have not heard, Lady Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, died on the eighth of April at the age of 87. She became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and won the first of her three smashing victories to the premiership in 1979, overwhelming the Labour Party for re-election in 1983 and again in 1987. She left office only after suffering an unspeakable betrayal.

If you know anything about Mrs. Thatcher, you can guess why she would appeal to an 18-year-old conservative attending public schools in a liberal state in an increasingly liberal country. Like Mary Richards, the woman had spunk. More than that, she had nerve. And to top it off, she was sharp as a nail and always did her homework. In the United States, in my lifetime, “conservative politician” has meant bumbling Dubya, intemperate McCain, embarrassing Palin and shape-shifting Romney; the idea that there was once an informed, articulate, principled conservative, and that she campaigned on real issues while treating her countrymen as thinking adults, and then won over a liberal populace and revived a nation in decline, was extraordinary.

Margaret Thatcher’s example is one that American conservatives would do well to study and in some ways to emulate, but I also think that American liberals should study it too. Really, Mrs. Thatcher—love or hate her politics—should be remembered with a degree of fondness by all Americans who long for their politicians to act as adults.

Again and again in reflections on her life, I have come across remarks like this one, made by former Labour minister Tony Benn: “She said what she meant and meant what she said and did what she said she would do.” As Thatcher herself declared, upon becoming leader of the Tories, “I am not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.” The Iron Lady was not afraid to make enemies or to divide her country on ideological grounds, because she had not the handler’s lust for “compromise” but the stateswoman’s love for candor—and candor is what her ailing, beloved Britain needed.

“I’m not here to be liked,” she used to say.

Contrast that with Barry Obama and Willard Mitt Romney. Does anyone really believe that Obama opposed homosexual marriage when he first ran for president in 2008, and then actually had a change of heart between then and 2012? No more than we believe that he was never in those pews for Reverend Wright’s noxious sermons. Of course Obama supported homosexual marriage in his heart all along; he was only waiting until it was politically expedient to be honest. Likewise, while one can grant Romney one or two changes of heart, no one considers his metamorphosis from Massachusetts moderate into Reagan conservative to be, well, heartfelt. Yet we Democrats and Republicans must go along defending these dishonest politicians.

Enough. A pox on both their houses. Let her inferiors make all the U-turns they want to; we shall raise a toast to Mrs. Thatcher, a lady who was not for turning.

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