Thatcher left inspiration, controversy in her wake
She was controversial and ground-breaking. She delivered the free market to England and at the same time unemployed millions. She partnered with Ronald Reagan to help end the Cold War and befriended the murderous former Chilean dictator, the late Augusto Pinochet. Margaret Thatcher left little middle ground for anyone to cling to and never looked back.
A week ago, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died at the age of 87, and in her wake, discussions of her legacy still continue from her conservative politics to the snubbing of the Argentine president from her funeral 30 years after the end of the Falklands War. Thatcher was a tough woman who backed down from no one and was a woman of action in the face of a patriarchal political society in Britain.
“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman,” Thatcher said.
Thatcher has left a considerable legacy and paved the way for the female politicians of the 21st century, and this “Iron Lady” was no wallflower; she was revered and repulsed by millions. However, it was her enemies that made her relevant; she stood for her beliefs in the face of extreme adversity, and that took extraordinary courage.
She was the former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party and was elected the first female prime minister in 1979, serving three consecutive terms until her resignation from party leadership in November 1990. She was a staunch conservative who supported the reduction of welfare programs, the diminishment of trade union power and privatization. Even during her deepening unpopularity, Thatcher never wavered in her beliefs, as she said in a May 1989 interview for Press Association that compromising your beliefs accomplishes nothing.
“You know, if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn’t you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing!”
Proof of Thatcher’s significance comes from the continuation of her policies in England long after she left office. David Frum of The Daily Beast said despite the that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was of the Labour Party, which the Conservative Party removed from power decades earlier, he still maintained many of Thatcher’s policies.
“(T)he great politicians leave a legacy that is accepted even by their opponents. Blair accepted Thatcher’s changes to Britain’s labor laws. He accepted the end of price controls. He accepted the privatization of industry. He accepted that government spending could not rise indefinitely. He accepted the role of the entrepreneur in the modern economy,” Frum said.
Aside from shattering the glass ceiling of political power, Thatcher’s social beliefs destroyed the stereotypical outlook toward conservative policies. Thatcher was one of the few conservatives to vote for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1960.
“She was a pioneer for previously excluded minorities — and for women, no minority at all,” Frum said.
In the U.S., remembrances of the Iron Lady’s courage and firmness may be the push this country needs in forming a future in which the idea of a female president is viable. Painting sophomore Audrye Williams said Thatcher’s success is proof that women can be leaders.
“I would vote for a female president if she shared my beliefs, not just because she is a woman like me,” Williams said. “If she could do it, there’s no reason it couldn’t be done here.”
Contrarily, despite the abundance of women in American politics, women are often dismissed as too weak or fragile to be the leader of the free world. Even Hillary Clinton’s close run against President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries was often suggested as being due in large part to the popularity of her husband and the idea of getting a two-for-one deal in electing her. MSNBC left-wing news personality Chris Matthews demeaned her success as a politician by claiming her appeal comes from the public’s pity toward her.
“I think the Hillary appeal has always been somewhat about her mix of toughness and sympathy for her,” Matthews said. “Let’s not forget, and I’ll be brutal, the reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front runner, is that her husband messed around. That’s how she got to be a senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn’t win it on her merit; she won because everybody felt, ‘My God, this woman stood up under humiliation, right? That’s what happened! That’s how it happened.’”
A female president will only be possible when public perception of women ceases to be that of instability and feebleness. Victory must wait until we are no longer considered the inferior sex, something Thatcher helped to change, but not completely abolished.
It is impossible to tell whether we will ever have a female leader like Thatcher; however, if she could do it in England, there is hope that a strong woman in her likeness can one day do it in America.
Sarah Backer is a business sophomore and may be reached at [email protected].