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"To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase -- the U-turn -- I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to; the lady's not for turning."
--Margaret Thatcher at a Conservative Party conference in 1980, when it was widely assumed she would turn from her conservative principles in a bid to restore her party's popularity.
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Books will be, and already have been, devoted to the changes Margaret Thatcher wrought not only in Britain but in the world. She was a revolutionary leader, or would counterrevolutionary be the better term?
She found her country sinking into the usual stagnant fen that years of socialist policies inevitably produce -- a kind of decay that is all the deeper and steadier for being confused with progress.
But the once obscure Conservative back-bencher, the member for Finchley, with her housewife's understanding of the economic realities, saw through the whole racket and, more impressive, got her countrymen to see through it.
Margaret Thatcher had a tendency to go to the essence of an issue. The trouble with socialists, she once said, is that they eventually run out of other people's money. Which was the point Britain was reaching when she moved into No. 10 Downing Street -- and stayed. She would become the longest-serving British prime minister since Gladstone in the late 19th century.
By the time she was through counterrevolutionizing, millions of Britons once confined to government housing projects were freed to buy their flats, the labor unions that had regularly brought the country to a standstill had been checked, and a rising new middle class of investors and entrepreneurs launched. In short, the economy had been set free. And to top it all, the country got a leader who talked straight.
Nor did the lady revolutionize only economic policy, substituting the judgment of millions (it's called the free market) for that of the anointed few running things and ruining them. Mrs. Thatcher was equally adamant about the need to stand fast in a world full of threats. She was so effective at it that it becomes harder and harder to remember what that world, half free and half slave, was like. And the imminent danger of nuclear war it posed.
The nuclear arms race so permeated the news and people's consciousness back then that it became almost impossible to imagine any other kind of world. Peace? Coexistence was the best we could all hope for, or so we were told by our Fulbrights and Kissingers. Of course they didn't call it appeasement, a term discredited forever by the Thirties, that low dishonest decade, which inexorably led to the calamitous Forties. No, the preferred term was Detente, appeasement by another name.
Margaret Thatcher still didn't buy it, and neither did a couple of other leaders -- Ronald Reagan and John Paul II -- who made all the difference, each in his own indelible way. And the fall of the Soviet Union, once just a fantasy, became a reality. The end of the nuclear arms race, that impossible dream, became possible. Not because it was inevitable, but because men -- and women like Margaret Thatcher -- made it happen. The first requisite for freedom is to remember that we all have free will. We do not have to appease tyrants. It is our choice, freedom or slavery. The lady chose freedom.
The struggle for peace and freedom, which are not opposed goals but go together as one, is scarcely finished. It may never be, but few in Mrs. Thatcher's time could have foreseen today's freer and more peaceful world, dangerous as it still is. She did. If you seek her monument, just look around. It's a changed world, and changed for the better.
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At her death this week at 87, the tributes arrived from all over. And so did the criticisms. Even in death, the old girl could still stir 'em up. And the world could use more stirring -- and more Iron Ladies like her. Or as we say in these latitudes, steel magnolias.
Agree or disagree with what Margaret Thatcher said or did, she had convictions and the courage to stick by them against what (at the time) looked like impossible odds. As thinkers of another century might put it, she had a WeltanschauÃ¼ng, a worldview. A cogent and comprehensive understanding of "where we are, and whither we are tending," to borrow a phrase from Mr. Lincoln.
The great difference between Mrs. Thatcher, M.P., and so many of today's "leaders" is not that their worldview is different but that, unlike the Iron Lady, they don't seem to have one. They are reduced to flitting from one ad-hoc policy to another as the day's events unfold. This they call this leadership, but it's more like a series of crisis-to-crisis expedients.
What did Margaret Thatcher have, and what seems missing today? Call it constancy of purpose. And its absence, though not always felt, is always there, under the surface, pulling us down, turning direction into drift.
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Margaret Thatcher's finest hour? There were so many to choose from, but I'd vote for her response when the Argentine generals, seeing their big chance now that Britain was led by a mere woman, seized the Falklands and presented the world with what they must have assumed would be a fait accompli. Well, the feat didn't stay accomplished, thanks to Margaret Thatcher and the Royal Navy.
The Spanish Armada made much the same the miscalculation in 1588 when another Iron Lady ruled England. This one would dispatch a fleet across an ocean to free the Falklands, demonstrating that the British lion could not just roar but roar up -- in defense of English liberties and the English rule of law. Soon the Union Jack flew over the Falklands again. Their liberty and name restored, they were the Falklands again, not the Malvinas. It may not be true that there will always be an England, but in 1982, in the Falklands, there was. And still is to this day.
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Nothing anyone can say at her state funeral next Wednesday at St. Paul's, a farewell one deserving of some of the pomp and circumstance that attended Churchill's, will match what Margaret Thatcher herself said over the (very steady) course of her long life. And, more important, what she did. She restored the self-respect not only of the English-speaking world but of the West. She made us proud to speak English. For no people that share her language can help but share her attachment to freedom. And not just for the English.
(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun