This week one has to write about Maggie Thatcher. Although the movie with Meryl Streep focused on the end of her life, I have to agree with Chris Matthews that the movie should have focused on her strength, her resolve, and how she changed the course of history.
Some analysts liked to talk this week about how she was so popular in the U.S., but that she was more controversial in Great Britain. Her policies might have been controversial, but no one can say she didn’t change life in Great Britain. When she came into power there was trash in the streets of London and bombs going off in the city. Class differences still were alive and well in the country. She was a grocer’s daughter who became the first female Prime Minister and — even though she spoke with a “posh” accent — quietly brought about an acceptance of the middle class in the upper echelons of the old society world. Being a banker, making money, and achieving a position through ability suddenly became quite fashionable. David Ignatius wrote a column all about the changes that she facilitated which are rarely discussed.
Of course, we all know about her and Reagan’s relationship and how they worked hand-in-hand. We are familiar with the war in the Falklands. Many of us remember her breaking the back of the coal miners’ union and how divisive that was in her homeland. Americans are less aware of some of her more controversial policies such as the poll tax which still means many Scots despise her name. Historians will go over her almost 12 years in power with a fine-toothed comb. And of course, there will be many a biography written about her.
As we see more and more women in leadership roles, I am more interested in watching how Americans who extol Thatcher and her leadership will handle any American female candidate who shows the type of outward strength and forcefulness of Lady Thatcher. I am not certain that our system would tolerate quite so combative a female politician since we elect our candidates directly and not through a parliamentary system where the party is selected by the voters and then the prime minister is picked through the party members. Perhaps though, she can inspire some of our female candidates into being more direct, focused, and clear in language than both males and females have been in recent years.
I personally have a memory of her that is much more oriented towards her feminine side. She traveled with hat boxes at all times and was a meticulous dresser making certain she always had matching hats for her daytime outfits. She was perfectly coiffed, and her makeup was always immaculate. Just as she has been portrayed as being determined and forceful in her language, she could also be charming and very considerate of those who worked for her or around her.
She was a complicated, charming, determined, fierce believer in her principles, and someone who cannot be summed up in a few hundred words, although many have and will do so. Whether one liked her politics or not, she was a force in history and will potentially go down as one of the great leaders of our time.