Irving Stone’s famous book, They Also Ran, chronicles men defeated for the presidency while analyzing those races to see if the people chose wisely.
Just as readers are left pondering how history may have been altered, the opposite also holds true: what if the winner had not been victorious.
With the passing of England’s “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, it’s obvious the Brits chose wisely. And the world owes them a debt of gratitude, for it is far safer because of Maggie.
With Ronald Reagan and Thatcher now gone, the pangs of sadness resonate with the ending of a golden era. For those who lived through superpower showdowns and nuclear war games, it is impossible not to give Thatcher a special place in your heart. As America’s greatest Cold War ally, she never wavered in looking the evil empire square in the eye, saying, “Give me your best shot—I can take it.”
Every generation has a tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses.
However, rainbows and lollypop reminiscing aside, the 1980s truly were remarkable. America and Britain were unified countries, evidenced by substantial electoral victories by Reagan and Thatcher, leading to an era marked by monumental events thought unthinkable just a decade prior.
The malaise of the 1970s had eroded people’s faith in their leaders and themselves. Optimism hit a brick wall, for good reason: runaway inflation; 20 percent interest rates; rationed gas; an aggressive Soviet Union, and the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis. The pinnacle of failure came during the calamitous rescue attempt, which, in addition to the gut-wrenching loss of life, was an embarrassment of epic proportions.
This widespread self-doubt led to the elections of Reagan and Thatcher. They took the helm of a West in search of its identity, carrying with them the dreams of billions. In charting a new course, they once again lit the beacons of hope, resurrecting that shining city upon a hill. They succeeded.
Hostages were freed, militaries beefed up, and economies roared back to life. With work came prosperity—hopes and dreams were not just restored, but realized. Peace through strength was wildly effective (it eventually destroyed the Soviet Union, freeing hundreds of millions), but it was not without its tests.
Who could forget Thatcher’s decisiveness in reclaiming the Falklands? That Argentine act of war, by the way, was calculated on the belief that Britain had neither the resources nor the stomach to wage a conflict half-a-world away. Wrong.
Ships of the British Line steamed 8,000 miles in the mold of Nelson and Hornblower, freeing its people and routing the Argentines. Most significant, Thatcher’s bold action put an exclamation point on something undeniable: British pride was back.
Years later, Thatcher took considerable heat (but never faltered) for allowing American bombers into Britain to attack Libya after Gadhafi’s terrorism. And of course, her chiding of George H.W. Bush as he wavered about helping Kuwait will forever define her testicular fortitude: “Remember George, this is no time to go wobbly!” Classic Thatcher.
Back home, she embarked on the Herculean task of reviving the sluggish, bureaucrat-laden economy, succeeding by instituting labor reforms and free-market initiatives. Like Reagan, she endured tough days before things turned around, but held fast, declaring to doubters in her own Party, “You turn if you want to … this Lady’s not for turning.”
Turn she did not. And was re-elected twice.
Effective as Thatcher was, her biggest negative was the handling of Northern Ireland. Declaring “crime is crime is crime; it is not political,” she let Bobby Sands and nine other Irish prisoners die from their hunger strike. A strong-willed leader, she should have done more for peace. Too many on both sides died during Maggie’s reign.
The British left most places it occupied better off than when they found it. Not so with Northern Ireland, and the troubles there remain a black mark for Thatcher on what is otherwise a legacy for the record books.
The ’80s saw Americans and Brits far more unified in their respective countries. Sure, there were political disagreements, but not nearly as uncivil as today. Thatcher and Reagan could have a knockdown fight with an opponent during the day and share a beer (and a laugh) that evening.
Maybe that was because we weren’t the only superpower back then. We knew the sobering capabilities of our enemy—and the consequences of failure in meeting its challenges. Maybe it was because the Cold War kept us sharply focused, a people bound together facing the ultimate threat.
But even more, it was because we had bold leaders, visionaries who believed in more than themselves and their next election. Great communicators, Reagan and Thatcher were principled, God-fearing stalwarts who made us once again believe in something that had been lost: ourselves.
Gipper, your best friend is with you again. “Iron Lady,” thank you. Rest in Peace.
Chris Freind is an independent commentator who operates FreindlyFireZone.com. Courtesy of Liberty Features Syndicate.
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