Commentary Magazine


Topic: Margaret Thatcher

Hashtag Diplomacy Jumps the Shark

The Obama administration’s “hashtag diplomacy” has been under criticism for some time, though condemnation of its participation in the campaign to rescue the girls kidnapped by Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram–tweeting messages along with the tag #BringBackOurGirls–was especially voluble this weekend. I agree with Jonathan on First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to join the hashtag campaign: it’s harmless; she’s a political celebrity without the power to do more than speak out anyway; and while she certainly can simply tell her husband to “bring back our girls” in private, doing so publicly is more meaningful, and possibly more effective.

However, it is decidedly not harmless when a Western leader who really can order troops decides his or her contribution will be to play a hashtag game. I’m looking at you, British Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the government while representing the party once led by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In fairness to Cameron, he was on a television talk show when another guest, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, asked him if he’d like to hold the sign and mug for the cameras. I’m not sure how it would have looked if he’d said no. At the same time, he shows no understanding of just how silly it looks to have a Western leader join this campaign, which should be reserved for those who can’t do more than make a sad face and throw up their hands.

Just who is Cameron telling to “bring back our girls”? The terrified parents of these children are certainly getting the impression that they’re on their own, as the New York Times reports:

Desperate parents have entered the forest themselves, armed only with bows and arrows. Officials say the military is searching there but there have been no results so far.

So parents have in some cases taken bows and arrows into enemy terrain to hunt for their children, because the guys commanding the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world are holding up cardboard signs and looking glumly into the camera, as if Boko Haram will be moved to charity by the ostentatiously pathetic nature of it all.

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The Obama administration’s “hashtag diplomacy” has been under criticism for some time, though condemnation of its participation in the campaign to rescue the girls kidnapped by Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram–tweeting messages along with the tag #BringBackOurGirls–was especially voluble this weekend. I agree with Jonathan on First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to join the hashtag campaign: it’s harmless; she’s a political celebrity without the power to do more than speak out anyway; and while she certainly can simply tell her husband to “bring back our girls” in private, doing so publicly is more meaningful, and possibly more effective.

However, it is decidedly not harmless when a Western leader who really can order troops decides his or her contribution will be to play a hashtag game. I’m looking at you, British Prime Minister David Cameron, head of the government while representing the party once led by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In fairness to Cameron, he was on a television talk show when another guest, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, asked him if he’d like to hold the sign and mug for the cameras. I’m not sure how it would have looked if he’d said no. At the same time, he shows no understanding of just how silly it looks to have a Western leader join this campaign, which should be reserved for those who can’t do more than make a sad face and throw up their hands.

Just who is Cameron telling to “bring back our girls”? The terrified parents of these children are certainly getting the impression that they’re on their own, as the New York Times reports:

Desperate parents have entered the forest themselves, armed only with bows and arrows. Officials say the military is searching there but there have been no results so far.

So parents have in some cases taken bows and arrows into enemy terrain to hunt for their children, because the guys commanding the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world are holding up cardboard signs and looking glumly into the camera, as if Boko Haram will be moved to charity by the ostentatiously pathetic nature of it all.

A world leader holding up a sign asking someone to please do something is an unnecessary, if implicit, admission of the intent to do nothing. This has been a running complaint of Western leaders, especially Barack Obama, of late. He has taken to declaring he wouldn’t use force without even being asked. It just became second nature for the president to insist that there wasn’t much to be done.

Although it is an imperfect analogy, it’s striking to contrast this with Ken Adelman’s piece at Politico about Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. It was derided, of course, as “star wars” by its critics and no one was sure it could even be done. But Adelman, who traveled with Reagan to his famous Reykjavik summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, notes that the Soviet leader was worried enough about SDI that he made it the focus of that meeting. He would give Reagan the dramatic nuclear cuts he wanted, but the deal had to include getting rid of SDI:

Reagan was furious with Gorbachev’s last-minute qualification. And he would not compromise on SDI, no matter the incentives. With all that we have achieved, he in essence told his Soviet counterpart, you throw in this roadblock and everything’s out the window. There’s absolutely no way we will give up research to find a defensive weapon against nuclear missiles.

“Am I wrong?” the president then scribbled on a note to George Schultz, his secretary of state. “No,” was the reply, whispered in his ear. “You are right.”

Adelman notes that the meeting was not considered a success because the two sides didn’t come to an agreement. But it was a success. SDI didn’t bring down the Soviet Union, but it played a role by accelerating Soviet reforms that the system could not, in the end, handle. Adelman quotes Margaret Thatcher as writing in her memoirs that Gorbachev was “so alarmed” by SDI that it made Reagan’s decision on SDI the “single most important of his presidency.”

Development of a missile shield is not the same as deploying forces in harm’s way, of course. But the point is less about the action taken than the willingness to make your enemies believe you’re capable of taking action. I’m reminded of a different Thatcher quote from another edition of her memoirs, when discussing members of her own party who behave as though they’ve already lost to the other side. “Retreat as a tactic is sometimes necessary; retreat as a settled policy eats at the soul.”

Cameron–and other Western leaders, including Obama–would do well to take that to heart. They should stop feeling so helpless, because they aren’t. But at the very least, they should stop acting so helpless.

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Chris Christie v. Margaret Thatcher

The Star-Ledger, covering comments by Governor Chris Christie to the Republican Jewish Coalition, reported this:

With an eye toward 2016, Christie echoed what has been a consistent theme from him since his re-election win. “I’m not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections,” he said to laughter. “If we want to just have arguments and stand for nothing, we could just form a university.”


I wonder if Governor Christie is aware that his comment is antithetical to one made by the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who said, “First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

It’s an odd and worrisome locution by Christie, who seems to think winning arguments is synonymous with standing for nothing. In fact, you win arguments precisely because you stand for something – some set of convictions, some set of principles, some set of ideas. Winning arguments – through reasons, based on marshaling evidence, by appealing to human experience and common sense – is something those in public life should want to do. 

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The Star-Ledger, covering comments by Governor Chris Christie to the Republican Jewish Coalition, reported this:

With an eye toward 2016, Christie echoed what has been a consistent theme from him since his re-election win. “I’m not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections,” he said to laughter. “If we want to just have arguments and stand for nothing, we could just form a university.”


I wonder if Governor Christie is aware that his comment is antithetical to one made by the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who said, “First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

It’s an odd and worrisome locution by Christie, who seems to think winning arguments is synonymous with standing for nothing. In fact, you win arguments precisely because you stand for something – some set of convictions, some set of principles, some set of ideas. Winning arguments – through reasons, based on marshaling evidence, by appealing to human experience and common sense – is something those in public life should want to do. 

Having strong beliefs is the reason, at least is should be the reason, one gets involved in politics in the first place. The alternative is to gain power for its own sake, perhaps because one is drawn to the title and perks and prestige; to win elections just to win elections. That’s hardly what lies at the core of the conservative vision.

One final thought: history tends to demonstrate that conservatives need to win arguments before they win votes. They have to persuade the public their ideas, and the assumptions and premises that underlie those ideas, are the right ones, the ones that are most consistent with human nature and best advance human flourishing.

If Governor Christie doesn’t believe these things – if he’s inclined to dismiss those who are busy trying to win public debates about urgent issues – that’s worth the rest of us knowing sooner rather than later. If an aide or confidant to Governor Christie wanted to do him a favor, they could do worse than to give him a copy of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences.

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“Outsiders” and Political Rebellion

If you’ve been following “Bridgegate,” the scandal currently engulfing Chris Christie, you are well aware, as every single story has explained, that this threatens Christie’s image in two ways. The first is that it reinforces a media narrative about him, which means it’s the kind of scandal that sticks: he’s a bully. The second is that it undermines his populist appeal and his anti-corruption bona fides. (Though his apologetic press conference today will probably win back points on that score.)

Both explanations are true, which is why they’ve proliferated as if they’ve been sent from the wires. And yet, accurate as they are, these explanations don’t seem to quite get to the bottom of it. The question at the heart of this is: Why does the public like Chris Christie enough to make a Republican governor of New Jersey an early favorite for 2016? Yes, they like his honesty, his bluntness, his humor, and his relatable persona. But I think there’s a missing ingredient to his popularity.

Christie was the consummate outsider as a candidate for governor, but how he translated that into office really enabled him to own the moniker. The vast bureaucracy of the federal government, and bipartisan frustration with the status quo in Washington, presents true “outsider” politicians with an opportunity. It was an opportunity that catapulted Barack Obama to the presidency, but which turned out to be a cruel joke played on the voters: Obama, as Kevin Williamson has so cogently pointed out, is “the front man for the permanent bureaucracy, the smiley-face mask hiding the pitiless yawning maw of total politics.”

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If you’ve been following “Bridgegate,” the scandal currently engulfing Chris Christie, you are well aware, as every single story has explained, that this threatens Christie’s image in two ways. The first is that it reinforces a media narrative about him, which means it’s the kind of scandal that sticks: he’s a bully. The second is that it undermines his populist appeal and his anti-corruption bona fides. (Though his apologetic press conference today will probably win back points on that score.)

Both explanations are true, which is why they’ve proliferated as if they’ve been sent from the wires. And yet, accurate as they are, these explanations don’t seem to quite get to the bottom of it. The question at the heart of this is: Why does the public like Chris Christie enough to make a Republican governor of New Jersey an early favorite for 2016? Yes, they like his honesty, his bluntness, his humor, and his relatable persona. But I think there’s a missing ingredient to his popularity.

Christie was the consummate outsider as a candidate for governor, but how he translated that into office really enabled him to own the moniker. The vast bureaucracy of the federal government, and bipartisan frustration with the status quo in Washington, presents true “outsider” politicians with an opportunity. It was an opportunity that catapulted Barack Obama to the presidency, but which turned out to be a cruel joke played on the voters: Obama, as Kevin Williamson has so cogently pointed out, is “the front man for the permanent bureaucracy, the smiley-face mask hiding the pitiless yawning maw of total politics.”

As a candidate, Obama truly was an outsider: though a senator, he had only just arrived in that august body, using his community-organizer credibility to promise a government of the people, a tree directed by its roots. As president, however, Obama has been exactly the opposite of an outsider. He has become one with the bureaucracy, not only not a leader but barely even a manager.

Looking back at the some of the moments when Western democracy truly asserted itself and proved its unmatched value to the politics of the world, it’s impossible not to repeatedly bump into the outsider presidents, people who rebelled against the bureaucracy that expected to capture them–a government of insiders who shuddered at the thought their new leader.

As David McCullough chronicles in his biography of Harry Truman, when FDR died and Truman took over, “People were fearful about the future of the country.” The head of the TVA said “The country and the world don’t deserve to be left this way.” Top generals disapproved too. Truman was such an outsider that FDR kept him out of the loop–unconscionably, considering his health. The president of the United States took the helm during World War II and had to be briefed on virtually everything that was going on in the White House.

And yet that very distance was liberating to Truman, even if he wanted to govern as he thought FDR would have–in part because, thanks to being kept in the dark, he didn’t actually know how FDR was governing most of the time. From challenging the labor unions to pushing back against Soviet encroachment, Truman successfully (if imperfectly) navigated the obstacles of the emerging postwar world. Eisenhower is often celebrated for his “realism,” but that’s because he largely maintained the American position of strength he inherited from Truman.

The Cold War that began in earnest on Truman’s watch ended in earnest on the watch of another political rebel, Ronald Reagan. He worried diplomatists in Washington by exhorting Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” He had worried hardliners earlier with his off-script diplomacy at the Reykjavik summit; Nixon said “no summit since Yalta has threatened Western interests so much as the two days at Reykjavik.”

He worried hawks with his drive to eliminate nuclear weapons. He worried doves with his drive for missile defense. Over and over again, he was right. But he had to navigate the established centers of authority on both right and left to get there, and he did so expertly. He remained enough of an outsider to do so.

And across the pond, Reagan’s ally was arguably more of a rebel against the establishment. Think of all the layers of resistance Margaret Thatcher had to break through to get to the prime minister’s office, and all the internal barriers she had to overcome once there–though of course the British premiership is structured differently than the American presidency, so the parallels are limited. (In some cases, though, that disparity makes Thatcher’s accomplishments even more impressive.)

Chris Christie’s time in office has given the impression that he would remain an outsider in Washington. Getting a Democratic state legislature in a heavily Democratic state to vote against the interests of the most powerful Democratic constituency was an example of an outsider undeterred by the entrenched power structure. When members of such an administration appear to use the authority of the state to take petty revenge on political opponents at the expense of the public, the impression is that the power structure has finally co-opted its would-be conqueror. To regain his footing, Christie will likely attempt to convince the public that he can still be trusted to tame the bureaucracy, and not be captured by it.

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Michele Bachmann Is No Margaret Thatcher

Mark Steyn is someone whom I enjoy reading and listening to. He’s informed, intelligent, and has a wonderful (and sometimes wicked) sense of humor. But once in a while his analysis is, in my estimation, a bit wide of the mark. Take his comments about Michele Bachmann, who yesterday announced she will not seek reelection. In paying tribute to her, Steyn said she could have been “America’s Thatcher.”

No she couldn’t. Margaret Thatcher was a once-in-a-generation leader. She changed the trajectory of history, bending it toward liberty. She was a woman who possessed a powerful intellect. Her speeches were thoughtful and historically literate, she always did her homework, and she was a first-rate debater. Margaret Thatcher’s achievements were staggeringly impressive. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, was a member of the House of Representatives who had some strengths but also some real weaknesses and limitations. 

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Mark Steyn is someone whom I enjoy reading and listening to. He’s informed, intelligent, and has a wonderful (and sometimes wicked) sense of humor. But once in a while his analysis is, in my estimation, a bit wide of the mark. Take his comments about Michele Bachmann, who yesterday announced she will not seek reelection. In paying tribute to her, Steyn said she could have been “America’s Thatcher.”

No she couldn’t. Margaret Thatcher was a once-in-a-generation leader. She changed the trajectory of history, bending it toward liberty. She was a woman who possessed a powerful intellect. Her speeches were thoughtful and historically literate, she always did her homework, and she was a first-rate debater. Margaret Thatcher’s achievements were staggeringly impressive. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, was a member of the House of Representatives who had some strengths but also some real weaknesses and limitations. 

When someone we like retires we’re inclined to shower more praise on them than they deserve. I get that. But saying that Michele Bachmann could have been “America’s Thatcher” is (to be generous) hyperbole. And my guess is that Steyn himself, on reflection, would agree.

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What Obama Should Have Said About the Gitmo Hunger Strikes

In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.

What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:

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In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.

What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:

The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop…. I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?

Not exactly Thatcherite–to say nothing of Churchillian–defiance of the terrorists’ demands, to say the least. He could easily have explained why we are doing this: Because there is a group of terrorists who cannot be convicted in a civilian court but who must remain locked up because they represent a continuing threat. He could have gone on to point out that a long list of detainees released from Gitmo have returned to terrorism, and he could have concluded by making clear that he would do whatever is necessary to keep Americans safe–even if it provokes protest from those locked up.

The president is a master orator who could easily have used his eloquence and his global reputation to defend America’s counter-terrorism efforts. Instead, he seemed to agree with the detainees’ claim that the U.S. is doing something wrong by keeping them locked up–a policy ratified by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and by the American people.

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Obama Downgrades “Special Relationship”

The once-”special relationship” between the UK and the U.S.–which as recently as the past decade produced remarkably close collaboration between George W. Bush and Tony Blair–grows less special by the day. President Obama began his term by exiling from the Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill that had been displayed by Bush; although he kept an identical bust which has been in the presidential residence since the Johnson administration, this was a small, symbolic move that indicated Obama’s diminished regard for the greatest of British prime ministers.

Now Obama has snubbed the second-greatest British prime minister by refusing to send any members of his administration to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The U.S. delegation was led by former secretaries of state George Shultz and Jim Baker–great men, to be sure, but they served in the Reagan administration. Where was Joe Biden? Isn’t the vice president’s chief job to attend funerals? But apparently he had more urgent things to do–as did, it seems, every single member of the Obama cabinet and even such unemployed politicians as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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The once-”special relationship” between the UK and the U.S.–which as recently as the past decade produced remarkably close collaboration between George W. Bush and Tony Blair–grows less special by the day. President Obama began his term by exiling from the Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill that had been displayed by Bush; although he kept an identical bust which has been in the presidential residence since the Johnson administration, this was a small, symbolic move that indicated Obama’s diminished regard for the greatest of British prime ministers.

Now Obama has snubbed the second-greatest British prime minister by refusing to send any members of his administration to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The U.S. delegation was led by former secretaries of state George Shultz and Jim Baker–great men, to be sure, but they served in the Reagan administration. Where was Joe Biden? Isn’t the vice president’s chief job to attend funerals? But apparently he had more urgent things to do–as did, it seems, every single member of the Obama cabinet and even such unemployed politicians as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

This snub has been noted across the Atlantic where Tories are seething about the lack of love for the Irony Lady–and by implication the lack of regard for the “special relationship” which has been the bedrock on which the security of the post-1945 world has been constructed.

This is not just an issue of symbolism, either: The Obama administration is maintaining a studious neutrality over the renewed dispute over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina once again appears bent on claiming in spite of its centuries under the Union Jack. The rights and wrongs of the situation are crystal clear: 99 percent of the islanders have just voted to remain part of Britain. Yet Obama has refused to offer any support to Britain in the face of renewed Argentine saber-rattling.

Don’t be surprised if the next time Washington wants British support in a future crisis, that backing will be mysteriously lacking.

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Rewarding Terror Against Israel While Denouncing It Elsewhere

As Boston was mourning its victims of terror yesterday, a Parisian suburb was planning a gala fete for terrorists. Among those slated to be honored at tonight’s ceremony in St. Denis are Allam Kaabi, convicted of assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and Salah Hamouri, convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Both are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were released in 2011 as part of the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Though sponsored by a private organization, the ceremony is to be held in a building owned by the municipality, thus lending the town’s imprimatur to it. And, adding insult to injury, it’s slated to be graced by a representative of Amnesty International: Evidently, this self-styled human rights organization has no problem with targeted killings of Israeli civilians, though it objects vociferously to targeted killings of terrorists.

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As Boston was mourning its victims of terror yesterday, a Parisian suburb was planning a gala fete for terrorists. Among those slated to be honored at tonight’s ceremony in St. Denis are Allam Kaabi, convicted of assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and Salah Hamouri, convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Both are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were released in 2011 as part of the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Though sponsored by a private organization, the ceremony is to be held in a building owned by the municipality, thus lending the town’s imprimatur to it. And, adding insult to injury, it’s slated to be graced by a representative of Amnesty International: Evidently, this self-styled human rights organization has no problem with targeted killings of Israeli civilians, though it objects vociferously to targeted killings of terrorists.

I can’t conceive of any Western city lending its aegis to a ceremony honoring, say, al-Qaeda terrorists–at least, not without sparking a major outcry from its countrymen. But as this ceremony once again demonstrates, even people who find terrorism against anyone else beyond the pale are often willing to make an exception when the victims are Israelis. And that holds true far beyond France.

Indeed, nobody better demonstrates this truth than the great lady who was buried in London today. Eulogies for Margaret Thatcher justly lauded her as a friend to the Jewish people, a friend to Israel (she was the first British premier ever to make an official visit there), and an uncompromising opponent of terror. Yet despite all this, she had no qualms about making an exception for terrorists who targeted Israelis: In 1980, Thatcher abandoned her previous insistence that the PLO renounce terror and signed onto the EEC’s Venice Declaration, which called for involving the PLO in any Israeli-Arab peace process. Thereafter, her government maintained official contact with the PLO.

This was eight years before Yasir Arafat officially renounced terror in 1988 (that he was lying, as the post-Oslo carnage later proved, is a different story). Indeed, the PLO routinely shelled communities in northern Israel from its Lebanese strongholds throughout the early 1980s, which is why Israel went to war to oust it from Lebanon in 1982; and in 1985, Palestinians hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murdered a wheelchair-bound American just because he was Jewish. Yet none of this caused Thatcher to change her mind: In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, she justified engaging with a terrorist organization on the grounds that the PLO was “an important factor in the area.”

It’s hard to find a rational explanation for why so many people tolerate terror against Israelis even as they excoriate it against anyone else. But by so doing, they are undermining both the battle against terror and the universality of the most fundamental human right of all–the right to life. Because if it’s OK to murder Israelis for the sake of a cause, then it’s okay to murder anyone. All that’s left to argue about is the validity of the cause in question.

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Obama’s Thatcher Snub

In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:

Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.

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In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:

Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.

Truman did not object to either point, and the speech became a pivotal moment in the early stages of the Cold War and of the post-war relationship between the U.S. and Britain. (It should be remembered that Churchill was accorded this honor from Truman despite the fact that he was no longer prime minister, though the British government that replaced him did not object to the speech.) In October 1947, Truman wrote to Churchill: “Your Fulton, Mo. speech becomes more nearly a prophecy every day. I hope conditions will warrant your paying me another visit. I certainly enjoyed your stay here immensely…. May you continue to enjoy health and happiness and a long life–the world needs you now as badly as ever.”

I recount this history because it is often forgotten that the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. after World War II and the countries’ close alliance against Soviet Communism was far from inevitable. On the contrary, it took painstaking diplomacy and bold gestures. Which is why the Obama administration’s decision to take the alliance with Britain for granted, marked by its repeated thoughtlessness and insulting behavior toward the British crown and government, is so foolish. And rather than learn from its blunders, the administration appears to be content to continue making such mistakes.

Following on its refusal to recognize British sovereignty over the Falklands or the Falklands residents’ own wishes, the Obama administration decided not to send a high-level official to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral service today. It did not go unnoticed.

Thatcher and Ronald Reagan carried to victory the Cold War partnership begun by Truman and Churchill. The Cold War has always been a sore subject for this administration, which has endlessly taunted those who want to remember the history at all. (This might have something to do with Vice President Joe Biden’s less-than-stellar record during the Cold War.) And since Thatcher rescued her country from the grips of suffocating union dominance and the Western left’s declinist fetish, it’s not too surprising the president would not want attention drawn to that either. But that’s still no excuse.

The whole episode recalls Obama’s decision to skip the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall early in his first term. He sent a videotaped message instead (which he found a way to make about himself, using the message to celebrate the historic nature of his own election). The only upside to today’s absence in London is that, given Obama’s treatment of our British allies thus far, he probably wasn’t missed.

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Margaret [Thatcher], Bill [Buckley], and Ron [Reagan]

In a graceful 1975 column titled “Just Call Me Bill,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote about his correspondence with Margaret Thatcher after she appeared on his TV show as the new leader of the Conservative Party. Buckley always referred to others as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” on television, even if he knew them well, but after Mrs. Thatcher called him “Bill” at one point during the interview, he felt he could write her a “Dear Margaret” letter. She responded with a “Dear Mr. Buckley” letter, and on checking the transcript of the interview, he was shocked to discover that on the show she had been referring to a piece of legislation, not his first name.

At the beginning of this year, Thatcher’s papers from 1982 were released, under the 30-year rule that governs such releases. Included in them is a secret personal message she sent to President Reagan on May 5, 1982, in the midst of the Falklands war. She had just completed a four-hour meeting with her cabinet to discuss U.S. proposals for a negotiated settlement, and she wrote to Reagan privately “because I think you are the only person who will understand the significance of what I am trying to say.” Her message continued as follows:

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In a graceful 1975 column titled “Just Call Me Bill,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote about his correspondence with Margaret Thatcher after she appeared on his TV show as the new leader of the Conservative Party. Buckley always referred to others as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” on television, even if he knew them well, but after Mrs. Thatcher called him “Bill” at one point during the interview, he felt he could write her a “Dear Margaret” letter. She responded with a “Dear Mr. Buckley” letter, and on checking the transcript of the interview, he was shocked to discover that on the show she had been referring to a piece of legislation, not his first name.

At the beginning of this year, Thatcher’s papers from 1982 were released, under the 30-year rule that governs such releases. Included in them is a secret personal message she sent to President Reagan on May 5, 1982, in the midst of the Falklands war. She had just completed a four-hour meeting with her cabinet to discuss U.S. proposals for a negotiated settlement, and she wrote to Reagan privately “because I think you are the only person who will understand the significance of what I am trying to say.” Her message continued as follows:

Throughout my administration I have tried to stay loyal to the United States as our great ally and to the principles of democracy, liberty and justice for which both of our countries stand.

In your message you say that your suggestions are faithful to the basic principles we must protect. But the present rulers of the Argentine will not respect those principles, and I fear deeply that if a settlement based on your suggestions is eventually achieved, we shall find that in the process of negotiation democracy and freedom for the Falkland Islanders will have been compromised.

Above all, the present proposals do not provide unambiguously for a right to self-determination, although it is fundamental to democracy and was enjoyed by the Islanders up to the moment of invasion …

I also believe that the friendship between the United States and Britain matters very much to the future of the free world. That is why, with the changes Francis Pym has suggested to Al Haig, we are ready, with whatever misgivings, to go along with your latest proposals. Assuming that they are accepted by the Argentines, then during the negotiation period that will follow we shall have to fight fiercely for the rights of the Falklanders who have been so loyal to everything in which you and we believe.

The Argentinians rejected the terms for negotiation the next day, so the U.S. proposal never became a reality. The historical significance of Thatcher’s message to Reagan relates less to the Falklands crisis itself than to the personal relationship she and Reagan had established by the second year of his presidency. The May 5, 1982 secret message was addressed to “Ron,” and it was signed simply, “Margaret.”

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Thatcher and the Politics of Prudence

Yesterday Mark Levin, popular radio talk show host and best-selling author, suggested (without mentioning my name) that my post on Margaret Thatcher was fundamentally at odds with, and even schizophrenic with, my post last week, in which I spoke about a conservatism that “places a premium on prudence and takes into account shifting circumstances and public sentiments.”

How could I praise political moderation and prudence one week and the Iron Lady the next?

A fair question, and one that affords me an opportunity to explain why the Thatcher example actually underscores my point about the conservative temperament and political moderation rightly understood.

Margaret Thatcher was a tower of political strength–principled, strong, determined, and courageous. (A nice summary of her accomplishments can be found here.) But what was the one area, as both a candidate and as prime minister, she stayed away from? The National Health Service–England’s socialized medical system. In fact, in her memoirs she praised the NHS. And Thatcher promised in her 1982 Conservative Party Conference speech that the NHS was “safe with us.”

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Yesterday Mark Levin, popular radio talk show host and best-selling author, suggested (without mentioning my name) that my post on Margaret Thatcher was fundamentally at odds with, and even schizophrenic with, my post last week, in which I spoke about a conservatism that “places a premium on prudence and takes into account shifting circumstances and public sentiments.”

How could I praise political moderation and prudence one week and the Iron Lady the next?

A fair question, and one that affords me an opportunity to explain why the Thatcher example actually underscores my point about the conservative temperament and political moderation rightly understood.

Margaret Thatcher was a tower of political strength–principled, strong, determined, and courageous. (A nice summary of her accomplishments can be found here.) But what was the one area, as both a candidate and as prime minister, she stayed away from? The National Health Service–England’s socialized medical system. In fact, in her memoirs she praised the NHS. And Thatcher promised in her 1982 Conservative Party Conference speech that the NHS was “safe with us.”

This is similar to what Ronald Reagan did with the New Deal, promising not to dismantle it. On the contrary, Reagan spoke about our nation’s “ironclad commitment to Social Security.” Reagan, in 1980, even went so far as to reassure people he would not dismantle Medicare, which of course was a product of the Great Society. (Avik Roy points out that “the closest thing to Medicare reform that Reagan tried was to introduce a new system of price controls into the program, called the Resource-Based Relative Value Scale, in 1988…. Indeed, Reagan’s most significant contribution to our health-care system was to help create a new entitlement—EMTALA–that guaranteed that anyone could get free access to emergency room care regardless of their ability to pay, including illegal immigrants.”)

What to make of these decisions by both Thatcher and Reagan?

I suppose one could argue–quite unfairly in my view–that they were unprincipled, weak, and RINO-like. The other interpretation is that they were conservative in the way I described last week: prudent, realistic, and wise enough not to engage in a political Pickett’s Charge.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan picked their battles wisely, didn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, and didn’t fight on issues that may well have led to their electoral loss–and therefore, in the process, foreclosed their chance at being historically great figures. They also took into account the settled views of the public, at least at the moment in time in which they governed. That doesn’t mean that over time things couldn’t change–as indeed they have on Medicare, with Republicans offering conservative reforms that go far beyond anything envisioned by Reagan. 

But I for one wouldn’t criticize Thatcher for not engaging in a frontal assault on NHS or Reagan for not engaging in a frontal assault on the New Deal. They marshaled their political capital in order to make profound changes in other areas, where they had a decent chance for success. So Reagan, for example, ushered in the supply side revolution while Thatcher privatized many British industries that had been state-controlled.

I wish, by the way, that Prime Minister Thatcher had been able to undo NHS and replace it with a free market system. But what one might have wanted her to do based on a conservative wish list, and what she was in fact able to do, are two different things. The conservatism I described last week is, I think, the conservatism Thatcher and Reagan more or less subscribed to in practice.

There is something of a divide on the right, perhaps not so much in terms of the end most of us seek (lower taxes, limited government, more competition, accountability and free market reforms) than in terms of how conservatives ought to deal with political reality as they try to advance conservative causes. Margaret Thatcher made her own inner peace with the NHS. And she was still one of the most consequential and successful conservative leaders of the 20th century.

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America Could Use Some “Question Time”

The death of Margaret Thatcher has, predictably, led to an outpouring of remembrance of this remarkable human being, including her zest for political combat. This has resulted in numerous clips of her at question time, that hour every day when the queen’s ministers face often very hostile questions from the opposition across the floor of the House of Commons (and, far less often, from their own party). Powerline has posted one such video, of Thatcher’s last appearance in parliament as Prime Minister. She is obviously thoroughly enjoying herself.

I have often thought that it is very unfortunate that nothing like question time has developed in this country, for it has been an enormously positive force in British politics. Unlike journalists, who are inescapably locked in a mutual back scratching society with politicians and thus can’t be too tough on them, the opposite party is only too happy to force them to respond—on the fly—to embarrassing questions. This, in turn, has empowered British journalists to ask tougher questions than American journalists usually ask. The Sunday talk shows in this country are all too often softball exhibitions.

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The death of Margaret Thatcher has, predictably, led to an outpouring of remembrance of this remarkable human being, including her zest for political combat. This has resulted in numerous clips of her at question time, that hour every day when the queen’s ministers face often very hostile questions from the opposition across the floor of the House of Commons (and, far less often, from their own party). Powerline has posted one such video, of Thatcher’s last appearance in parliament as Prime Minister. She is obviously thoroughly enjoying herself.

I have often thought that it is very unfortunate that nothing like question time has developed in this country, for it has been an enormously positive force in British politics. Unlike journalists, who are inescapably locked in a mutual back scratching society with politicians and thus can’t be too tough on them, the opposite party is only too happy to force them to respond—on the fly—to embarrassing questions. This, in turn, has empowered British journalists to ask tougher questions than American journalists usually ask. The Sunday talk shows in this country are all too often softball exhibitions.

It has also forced British politicians to be very nimble on their verbal feet, and wit—which is often in very short supply in American politics—is greatly prized on the other side of the Atlantic. Many of Winston Churchill’s famous turns of phrase, such as “terminological inexactitude” and “parsimonious with the truth,” came out of question time. And then there was the famous exchange in the 18th century when one member, losing his temper, said of another, “You, sir, shall die of the pox or upon the gallows!” His interlocutor instantly replied, “And which it is to be, sir, depends on whether I embrace your mistress or your principles!”

Wouldn’t it be great if the entire cabinet and the heads of the major agencies had to appear in the House of Representatives once a week and answer whatever questions the other party chose to throw at them, while members hooted their derision or shouted, “hear! hear!”? At the very least, it would make for great political theater, once they sharpened their debating skills. Senator John McCain in his 2008 campaign for president said that if elected he would ask the Congress to appear before both houses regularly to answer questions. I doubt that would have come to pass, however, for constitutional reasons.

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COMMENTARY on Margaret Thatcher

As our Max Boot, John Steele Gordon and Peter Wehner have already written today, Margaret Thatcher was a crucial historical figure whose achievements transformed Britain and helped to win the Cold War against Communism and the Soviet Union. Here’s a brief collection of COMMENTARY articles on Thatcher over the years:

John O’Sullivan wrote in 1983 about her early successes as prime minister in “Thatcherization, Continued.”

O’Sullivan also summed her political career in 1989 with “Britain Under the Iron (High) Heel?”

The great historian Paul Johnson reviewed Thatcher’s memoirs, The Downing Street Years.

Ted Bromund analyzed the problems with the biographical film about Thatcher in 2012 in “Iron Lady Bias Can’t Diminish Thatcher.”

Jonathan Neumann discussed the same topic in “The Ideas Lady.”

As our Max Boot, John Steele Gordon and Peter Wehner have already written today, Margaret Thatcher was a crucial historical figure whose achievements transformed Britain and helped to win the Cold War against Communism and the Soviet Union. Here’s a brief collection of COMMENTARY articles on Thatcher over the years:

John O’Sullivan wrote in 1983 about her early successes as prime minister in “Thatcherization, Continued.”

O’Sullivan also summed her political career in 1989 with “Britain Under the Iron (High) Heel?”

The great historian Paul Johnson reviewed Thatcher’s memoirs, The Downing Street Years.

Ted Bromund analyzed the problems with the biographical film about Thatcher in 2012 in “Iron Lady Bias Can’t Diminish Thatcher.”

Jonathan Neumann discussed the same topic in “The Ideas Lady.”

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The Iron Lady Belongs to the Ages

For many people of my generation–born in the 1960s and who really came of age politically during the 1980s–the two largest figures in our political imagination were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. President Reagan died in 2004, and early this morning Prime Minister Thatcher passed away at the age of 87.

I vividly recall spending time with Mrs. Thatcher at a small gathering in Bath, England in the early 1990s, at a conference hosted by National Review. She was spectacular, both in informal conversations and in her speech. You couldn’t spend five minutes with Mrs. Thatcher without knowing that this was a person of tremendous depth, intelligence and convictions. And considerable charm, too.

There are many things one could say in tribute of Thatcher, but I want to focus on simply two. The first was her ability to challenge and re-shape the assumptions of the people whom she was elected to lead. 

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For many people of my generation–born in the 1960s and who really came of age politically during the 1980s–the two largest figures in our political imagination were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. President Reagan died in 2004, and early this morning Prime Minister Thatcher passed away at the age of 87.

I vividly recall spending time with Mrs. Thatcher at a small gathering in Bath, England in the early 1990s, at a conference hosted by National Review. She was spectacular, both in informal conversations and in her speech. You couldn’t spend five minutes with Mrs. Thatcher without knowing that this was a person of tremendous depth, intelligence and convictions. And considerable charm, too.

There are many things one could say in tribute of Thatcher, but I want to focus on simply two. The first was her ability to challenge and re-shape the assumptions of the people whom she was elected to lead. 

In the 1970s, Great Britain was “the sick man of Europe,” crippled by powerful labor unions and creeping socialism. What Thatcher did was to directly challenge the philosophy of socialism, which she fiercely attacked. Her speeches, both before she became prime minister and afterward, were models of discourse. They were not merely words strung together or boilerplate phrases; she marshaled powerful arguments on behalf of democratic capitalism and liberty. And she had the courage and skill to implement those policies over great opposition, and with great successes. (She was prime minister for 11 and a half years.) Over time she altered the outlook of the British people, which is quite a rare and impressive political achievement. She was, to use a metaphor, more of a thermostat than she was a thermometer. She changed the political and philosophical climate of her nation, in ways that few others ever have.

The second testimony to Mrs. Thatcher is the way she influenced the opposition party. Pre-Thatcher, the Labour Party was a hopeless wreck, enchanted with socialism and statism at home (it favored the wholesale nationalization of key industries) and unilateral disarmament and moral weakness abroad. 

The result of Thatcherism was the rise of Tony Blair, who fundamentally reshaped the British Labour Party and moved it in a much more conservative direction on issues like national security, crime, welfare, education, and economics. Sometimes the way you measure the influence of political leaders isn’t simply their impact on their party but on the opposition. And by this standard, Mrs. Thatcher’s reach, like her beloved friend Ronald Reagan’s, was enormous.

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of a nation that was demoralized and on the decline. She lifted Great Britain from its knees and returned it to greatness. She was one of the 20th century’s most consequential leaders, a woman of impressive virtues, and one of America’s greatest friends and allies. She will be terribly missed and never forgotten. Margaret Thatcher belongs to the ages. 

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Margaret Thatcher

One of the giants who walked the earth in my lifetime, Margaret Thatcher, has died at the age of 87.

With the exception of Winston Churchill, she was, without question, the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century. Before she went to 10 Downing Street in 1979, Britain had been in seemingly irreversible decline, its empire gone, its industry ramshackle, its politics in thrall to the trade unions. Britain was the sick man of Europe. By the time she left office, in 1990, all that had changed. The power of the unions had been broken, the British economy was expanding rapidly, the government had sold off previously socialized industries. The United Kingdom was, once again, one of the great nations of the world.

Like all great people of determination and principle, she was savagely criticized. She was called “La pasionaria of privilege” and “Attila the hen.” But, thoroughly at home in the rough and tumble of the House of Commons, it didn’t bother her a bit. She was delighted when Mikhail Gorbachev dubbed her “the iron lady.” Along with Ronald Reagan, with whom she developed a very close relationship, she changed the whole tone of international politics and helped bring the Cold War to an end with the collapse of Communism and the success of free-market capitalism. The world was a different, and better, place after her premiership.

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One of the giants who walked the earth in my lifetime, Margaret Thatcher, has died at the age of 87.

With the exception of Winston Churchill, she was, without question, the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century. Before she went to 10 Downing Street in 1979, Britain had been in seemingly irreversible decline, its empire gone, its industry ramshackle, its politics in thrall to the trade unions. Britain was the sick man of Europe. By the time she left office, in 1990, all that had changed. The power of the unions had been broken, the British economy was expanding rapidly, the government had sold off previously socialized industries. The United Kingdom was, once again, one of the great nations of the world.

Like all great people of determination and principle, she was savagely criticized. She was called “La pasionaria of privilege” and “Attila the hen.” But, thoroughly at home in the rough and tumble of the House of Commons, it didn’t bother her a bit. She was delighted when Mikhail Gorbachev dubbed her “the iron lady.” Along with Ronald Reagan, with whom she developed a very close relationship, she changed the whole tone of international politics and helped bring the Cold War to an end with the collapse of Communism and the success of free-market capitalism. The world was a different, and better, place after her premiership.

Perhaps her finest moment was when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. Thousands of miles away from Britain, inhabited by a few thousand sheep farmers, cold and rainy, many thought the islands not worth the price that would have to be paid to recover them. But Margaret Thatcher, convening a cabinet meeting on the subject after the news of the invasion, said simply, “Gentlemen, we shall have to fight.”

And fight they did. It cost millions of pounds and hundreds of lives, but Britain recovered the islands and defeated naked aggression. The results elsewhere were enormously positive. Not only did the people of the Falklands keep the government they wanted, but the junta ruling Argentina fell and democracy returned to that much misgoverned country. The victory greatly raised British spirits and national pride, which badly needed raising. Thatcher called an election following the military triumph and enjoyed a political one.

Like all great political leaders, Margaret Thatcher was a great personality. Like FDR, Churchill, and Reagan, people who never met her still felt they knew her almost personally. She was far more than just a name in a headline. And that is why, along with her accomplishments, Margaret Thatcher is immortal, one who will be written about and argued about for as long as the 20th century itself is. After all, she has already been the subject of a great Hollywood movie. Can you imagine anyone making a movie about Edward Heath or Harold Wilson?

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Thatcher: A Leader Vindicated by History

It is a common conceit of age to imagine that giants roamed the earth in one’s youth while today the political scene is populated by pygmies. But I still cling to that view, for my formative years occurred while Ronald Reagan was president and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. Naturally, as an American, I was more focused on Reagan. But Thatcher, whose exploits were covered in the newspapers and magazines that I read (the Los Angeles Times, National Review, Newsweek), was an inspiration too. That is why I am sad to learn of her death, although it was hardly unexpected–she had been terribly debilitated by strokes in recent years.

What Reagan and Thatcher showed–and it is a lesson that may seem at odds with the conservative impulse that the private sector is the most significant–is what a difference political leadership can make. (Later Rudolph Giuliani showed the same thing–he was for urban policy what Reagan and Thatcher were for national policy.) They both inherited a mess: In Thatcher’s case she took over in 1979 following the “Winter of Discontent” when Britain was paralyzed by multiple strikes and high unemployment. As the Conservative advertising slogan had it, “Labour isn’t working.” Reagan, of course, took over from Jimmy Carter in the wake of the failed hostage-rescue mission and in the midst of a severe recession characterized by “stagflation.” Worst of all was a widespread loss of confidence in the future–both in Britain and America it was fashionable back then to imagine that the “the West” was finished and that the Soviet Union was ascendant.

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It is a common conceit of age to imagine that giants roamed the earth in one’s youth while today the political scene is populated by pygmies. But I still cling to that view, for my formative years occurred while Ronald Reagan was president and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. Naturally, as an American, I was more focused on Reagan. But Thatcher, whose exploits were covered in the newspapers and magazines that I read (the Los Angeles Times, National Review, Newsweek), was an inspiration too. That is why I am sad to learn of her death, although it was hardly unexpected–she had been terribly debilitated by strokes in recent years.

What Reagan and Thatcher showed–and it is a lesson that may seem at odds with the conservative impulse that the private sector is the most significant–is what a difference political leadership can make. (Later Rudolph Giuliani showed the same thing–he was for urban policy what Reagan and Thatcher were for national policy.) They both inherited a mess: In Thatcher’s case she took over in 1979 following the “Winter of Discontent” when Britain was paralyzed by multiple strikes and high unemployment. As the Conservative advertising slogan had it, “Labour isn’t working.” Reagan, of course, took over from Jimmy Carter in the wake of the failed hostage-rescue mission and in the midst of a severe recession characterized by “stagflation.” Worst of all was a widespread loss of confidence in the future–both in Britain and America it was fashionable back then to imagine that the “the West” was finished and that the Soviet Union was ascendant.

Reagan and Thatcher would have none of it. Both were firmly outside the political and intellectual mainstream, and both were derided as simpletons for imagining that they could reverse the course of history. But that is precisely what they did–Reagan with his tax cuts (helped by Fed chairman Paul Volcker’s anti-inflationary policy) and defense spending increases which, respectively, revived the economy and restored our military power; Thatcher with her income-tax cuts, budget cuts, interest-rate hikes and her willingness to stand up to the unions, all of which revived the British economy, and her willingness to fight Argentina for the Falkland Islands, which restored British confidence.

It was a bravura performance, all the more so because both Thatcher and Reagan had to overcome personal doubts about their ability to govern, doubts exacerbated, in her case, by her gender (she was the first and so far only female prime minister in Britain) and, in his case, by his former profession (he was the first and so far only actor to become president). Thatcher’s challenge was all the greater given that so much of the Conservative Party remained “wet”–i.e., skeptical of her conservative principles. Eventually it was not the political opposition but her own party which toppled her, leading to a long period of Conservative wandering in the wilderness, punctuated by uninspiring rule first by John Major and now by David Cameron, neither of whom will ever be mentioned in the same breath as the Iron Lady.

Like Reagan, Thatcher was vindicated by history–and just as Reagan was praised by Bill Clinton, so she was praised by Tony Blair. She will be remembered as the greatest female ruler since Queen Elizabeth I and the greatest British prime minister since Winston Churchill.

Her example, and Reagan’s, is worth remembering today at a time when there is widespread pessimism in both Britain and America about our ability to solve our long-term problems–pessimism created in no small part because of the anemic economies presided over by David Cameron and Barack Obama. The problem now, as in 1979, is not with the underlying American or British society. The problem is with our political leadership. Reagan and Thatcher showed what inspired leadership can achieve. Imagine what we could do if giants like them were to walk the earth again. That may seem unlikely, but we can take heart from the fact that the worse a crisis is, the higher the prospects that a great leader will emerge out of the political muck.

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Another (Self-Induced) Diplomatic Headache for Obama

For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

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For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

The irony of the Falklands is that those who either oppose British sovereignty over the islands or simply refuse to support it have contributed far more to the U.K.’s lasting control over the islands than anyone on the British side. They have turned what was a faraway and costly remnant of a disintegrating empire into an issue of national pride. This was certainly what Argentina did when it chose to invade the islands in 1982. Argentinean junta leaders correctly read signals indicating the British had no real desire to hold on to the islands, and a bit of patience would have almost certainly been rewarded. Instead, they attacked.

In his history of the Cold War, Norman Stone recounts the scene with typically colorful flourishes. Both Argentina and the British seemed to think that a quiet transfer of authority of the islands to Argentina would be in everyone’s interest. Stone describes the unfolding of a genuinely stupid miscalculation on the part of the junta:

In December 1981 a General Leopoldo Galtieri seized the dominant role in the Buenos Aires military junta, and he appeared as the ultimate in comic, circus-uniformed rulers, an “El Supremo” out of Hornblower. In March 1982 he tested the waters: his troops landed on South Georgia, a remote, frozen place from which the British had conducted surveys of the Antarctic. Then, on 2 April, he invaded the Falklands. In London there was disbelief: a senior Foreign Office man caught the mood when he gasped, they cannot treat a major power in this way.

Parliament was furious and Margaret Thatcher took action, sending forces to repel the invasion. Stone notes that public opinion was rallied to the cause. Had the Argentine junta been smart, even the island’s inhabitants who wanted to remain under the crown could have been relocated to other islands still controlled by Britain and for a fraction of the cost of the Falklands war. Yet the junta “behaved with grotesque obstinacy.” The junta seemed to think they’d have American support; they of course did not. Stone suggests the junta leaders may have even misread Jeane Kirkpatrick’s COMMENTARY essay on “Dictatorships and Double Standards” to think they had some latitude in acting out their delusional fantasies. The French helped the British effort, which was successful. Thatcher was able to say “we have ceased to be a nation in retreat.”

The junta fell and Thatcher was venerated as a liberator. British national pride received a much-needed jolt and, Stone writes, “in some ways it marked the high point of the Thatcher period: a courageous budget was associated with economic recovery, and the Falklands campaign with a great sea-change in international affairs.”

The Falklands were an artifact; they were not exactly the jewel in the crown. But just like that they had become a new kind of Dunkirk, a symbol of British strength and resolve. As the AP story notes, some are raising questions about the logic of retaining the islands in an age of austerity. The vote was less a message to the United States than it was to David Cameron not to cut them loose to free up some spare change. But that decision, if taken, will ultimately be Britain’s. Denying British sovereignty remains silly. You can’t ask for much more of a mandate than 99.8 percent agreement among the population.

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Reagan and Thatcher, Cameron and Obama

Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

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Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

[The Prime Minister]: Mr. President, an earlier visitor to the United States, Charles Dickens, described our American friends as by nature frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. That seems to me, Mr. President, to be a perfect description of the man who has been my host for the last 48 hours. (Applause.) …

Charles Dickens, like me, also visited Capitol Hill. He described the congressmen he met there as “striking to look at, hard to deceive, prompt to act, lions in energy, Americans in strong and general impulse.” Having been there and agreeing with Dickens as I do, I’m delighted to see so many Members of Congress here this evening. And if Dickens was right, relations between the legislative and executive branches should be smooth indeed over the next four years. After all, “prompt to act and lions in energy” should mean, Mr. President, you’ll get that expenditure cutting program through very easily indeed. (Laughter. Applause.) …

California, of course, has always meant a great deal to my countrymen from the time, almost exactly 400 years ago, when one of our greatest national heroes, Sir Francis Drake, proclaimed it New Albion in keeping with the bravado of the Elizabethan Age. This feeling of community and curiosity that we have about California exists in the present age when another of our household names made his career there, one of the greatest careers in show business. I refer to Mr. Bob Hope, who is here this evening, and whom we like to claim is partly ours because he was born in the United Kingdom, though he decided to leave when he was only four years old. (Laughter.) …

I hope you didn’t feel ill at ease as you came up the stairs and passed under the gaze of George III. (Laughter.) I can assure you that we British have long since come to see that George was wrong and that Thomas Jefferson was right when he wrote to James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” (Laughter.) …

It’s not the time, Mr. President, for me to talk at any length about the relations between our two countries except to say that they are profoundly and deeply right. And beyond that, we perhaps don’t have to define them in detail. …

There will, of course, be times, Mr. President, when yours perhaps is the loneliest job in the world, times when you need what one of my great friends in politics once called “two o’clock in the morning courage.” There will be times when you go through rough water. There will be times when the unexpected happens. There will be times when only you can make a certain decision. It is at that time when you need the two o’clock in the morning courage. … And what it requires is a knowledge on your part that whatever decision you make you have to stick with the consequences and see it through until it be well and truly finished. …

I want to say this to you, Mr. President, that when those moments come, we here in this room, on both sides of the Atlantic, have in you total faith that you will make the decision which is right for protecting the liberty of common humanity in the future. You will make that decision that we as partners in the English-speaking world know that, as Wordsworth wrote, “We must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.”

[The President]: Bob Hope will know what I mean when I speak in the language of my previous occupation and say you are a hard act to follow. (Laughter. Applause.) … And may I say that I do know something about that “two o’clock courage,” but I also know that you have already shown that two o’clock courage on too many occasions to name. (Applause.) …

[Y]ou know, Prime Minister, that we have a habit of quoting Winston Churchill. Tell me, is it possible to get through a public address today in Britain without making reference to him? It is increasingly difficult to do so here, not just because we Americans share some pride in his ancestry, but because there’s so much to learn from him, his fearlessness, and I don’t just mean physical courage. I mean he was, for instance, unafraid to laugh. I can remember words attributed to Churchill about one somber, straight-laced colleague in Parliament. Churchill said, “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” (Laughter.) …

When he addressed Parliament in the darkest moments after Dunkirk, Churchill dared to promise the British their finest hour and even reminded them that they would someday enjoy, quote, “the bright, sunlit uplands,” unquote, from which the struggle against Hitler would be seen as only a bad memory. Well, Madam Prime Minister, you and I have heard our share of somber assessments and dire predictions in recent months. I do not refer here to the painful business of ending our economic difficulties. We know that with regard to the economies of both our countries we will be home safe and soon enough.

I do refer, however, to those adversaries who preach the supremacy of the state. We’ve all heard the slogans, the end of the class struggle, the vanguard of the proletariat, the wave of the future, the inevitable triumph of socialism. Indeed, if there’s anything the Marxist-Leninists might not be forgiven for it is their willingness to bog the world down in tiresome cliches, cliches that rapidly are being recognized for what they are, a gaggle of bogus prophecies and petty superstitions. … I wonder if you and I and other leaders of the West should not now be looking toward bright, sunlit uplands and begin planning for a world where our adversaries are remembered only for their role in a sad and rather bizarre chapter in human history.

The British people, who nourish the great civilized ideas, know the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. That, after all, is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the legend of the man who lived on Baker Street, the story of London in the Blitz, the meaning of the Union Jack snapping briskly in the wind. Madam Prime Minister, I’ll make one further prediction, that the British people are once again about to pay homage to their beloved Sir Winston by doing him the honor of proving him wrong and showing the world that their finest hour is yet to come, and how he would have loved the irony of that. How proud it would have made him.

At the beginning of his administration, Obama returned Churchill’s bust to Britain, insulted its prime minister on his trip to Washington (with no state dinner nor even a full-blown press conference), gave him a demeaning set of DVDs for a gift, and stayed silent as a State Department official explained “there’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

This week, in his toast at the state dinner for Cameron, Obama did not mention Reagan or Thatcher, or what they achieved together. He did, however, mention Churchill:

So, in closing, let me just say that I intended to make history tonight. I thought that I could be the first American President to make it through an entire visit of our British friends without quoting Winston Churchill. (Laughter.) But then I saw this great quote and I thought, “Come on, this is Churchill!” (Laughter.) So I couldn’t resist.

It was December 1941, and the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally thrust America into war, alongside our British friends. And these were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners: “I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.”

And so I’d like to propose a toast:  To Her Majesty the Queen, on her Diamond Jubilee; to our dear friends, David and Samantha; and to the great purpose and design of our alliance. May we remain, now and always, its faithful servants. Cheers, everyone.

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“Iron Lady” Bias Can’t Diminish Thatcher

“The Iron Lady” is not a very good movie. In conception, it suffers from the problem inherent in any biopic: the order of events is well-known, and the characters are dictated by history. The result is that most biopics are bad. The classic example is Richrd Attenborough’s “Young Winston,” which despite being directed by a prominent cinematic artist, and being based on one of the great adventure stories of the modern age, is desperately dull.

In comparison to that low standard, “The Iron Lady” comes off tolerably well, though it suffers badly from a “if it’s minute 56, it must be the miner’s strike” feeling. It’s also far too obvious about putting guns on the mantelpiece in the first act so they can be fired in the third: when you hear a young Margaret Thatcher saying she doesn’t want to end her life washing up tea cups, you know how the movie will end. And it’s got an obsession with butter – covering it, using too much of it, and buying it– that may have been intended as a misbegotten metaphor for domesticity, but comes off as weird.

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“The Iron Lady” is not a very good movie. In conception, it suffers from the problem inherent in any biopic: the order of events is well-known, and the characters are dictated by history. The result is that most biopics are bad. The classic example is Richrd Attenborough’s “Young Winston,” which despite being directed by a prominent cinematic artist, and being based on one of the great adventure stories of the modern age, is desperately dull.

In comparison to that low standard, “The Iron Lady” comes off tolerably well, though it suffers badly from a “if it’s minute 56, it must be the miner’s strike” feeling. It’s also far too obvious about putting guns on the mantelpiece in the first act so they can be fired in the third: when you hear a young Margaret Thatcher saying she doesn’t want to end her life washing up tea cups, you know how the movie will end. And it’s got an obsession with butter – covering it, using too much of it, and buying it– that may have been intended as a misbegotten metaphor for domesticity, but comes off as weird.

The much-discussed, tedious, demeaning, and tasteless episodes of Thatcher’s old age, and the hambone contributions of Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher, certainly break up the chronology of the biopic, and seem to have been intended as the focal point of the movie: there’s a good deal of evidence that director Phyllida Lloyd and Meryl Streep wanted to use them to discredit Thatcher, not to make a movie that would burnish her image. Yet strangely, that’s more or less what they’ve achieved.

The present-day material is so irrelevant and faded compared to the vibrancy of Streep’s Thatcher in her prime that it inspires not a meditation on the loneliness of power, or a sense of “ashes to ashes,” but a desire on the part of the viewer to get the faux Denis off the screen and go back to the action. And while the movie clearly implies that Thatcher devoted too little time to her family – a point that sorts ill with its depiction of her as a feminist heroine – it tends, by devising a cartoonish Denis, to make her interest in politics all the more explicable and human. All this personal backstory is a Hollywood invention, pure and simple, but even dramatically, it doesn’t work.

Frankly, I went into “The Iron Lady” expecting the worst.  Making a movie about Lady Thatcher after Number 10 struck me as being like making a movie about Churchill after 1955. But as Churchill once said, if you get a few big things right, you can afford to make a lot of little mistakes.  And the movie does one thing completely right: it lets Thatcher speak her case in words that are – mostly – plausibly hers, and because the case and the words are powerful, they blow away the opposition, with the result that the movie’s political narrative is strongly Thatcherite.

In fact, not a single one of Thatcher’s opponents appears to have had anything going for them. Edward Heath is an appeaser who can’t even keep the lights on in Number 10 (fortunately, Margaret has a flashlight in her handbag); Michael Foot is a blithering, braying idiot with bad hair; Al Haig is shown as inept (a scene that had the Americans in the audience cheering Thatcher on), and her opponents in the Cabinet are spineless nincompoops who carry out a nursery school rebellion against her because she’s too vigorous in pointing out their uselessness.

From the Thatcherite point of view this is raise a cheer stuff, but it’s not great history. Agree with them or not, Heath, Haig, and the rest were not negligible figures. Nor is it necessarily a contribution to building up Lady Thatcher’s legacy: Thatcher’s only real opposition in the movie comes, inchoately, from the British system, and ultimately from herself. Indeed, “The Iron Lady” subtly – but not intentionally, I think – implies that Thatcher triumphed only because almost everyone else in Britain was a buffoon. True, the standard of political leadership in Britain in the 1970s was relatively low. But it’s hard to be a world historical giant in the movies if your competition is a bunch of pygmies. Even Streep’s performance, brilliant as it is, is not so much acting as it is mimicry.

Given the movie’s weaknesses, speculating about its political agenda is probably futile. For what it’s worth, my sense is the movie intended to be a “how the mighty have fallen” rumination, combined with a conventional left-wing take on Thatcher’s Britain. For example, during the Falklands War, Thatcher is told that sinking the Belgrano would be an escalation and invite an Argentine response: the shot of the British torpedo leaving the tube jumps to one of an Exocet missile striking HMS Sheffield. Cause and effect, the movie implies: it was Thatcher who killed those British sailors. Similarly, there is quite a lot of footage of angry miners, hard-partying city bankers, and various rioters. But none of this works because, while the Hollywood left may have no doubt where it stands on these issues, the movie simply assumes its case. In the end, it’s Thatcher who has to make the tough decisions, and the fact of her making them comes across as far more impressive than the film’s imputations about their effects.

Many of the film’s reviewers in Britain have been Thatcher’s friends and colleagues, and their dislike of its exaggerated and voyeuristic depiction of her failing health is understandable. But even the Denis scenes end with a Thatcher victory: she sees the ghostly Denis off, and closes – washing up a teacup, yes – on a suitable note of steely determination. In real life, Thatcher’s courage manifested itself in recognizing that Britain had spent the post-war years trying to reconcile the pursuit of low unemployment, low inflation, high growth, a stable pound, an export surplus, and large and steadily increasing government intervention in the economy. This was not so much a chosen policy as a refusal to make tough choices, and by 1979, it had completely stopped working.

By accepting the need to make choices, Thatcher broke out of the trap, and by doing that, she gave the following generation the luxury of being less than fully serious. Many people resented both her enthusiasm for making decisions and the decisions she made. But as Richard Vinen pointed out in the New York Times last month, Thatcher’s successors “ceased to think of politics in terms of hard choices and scare resources. . . likability [of the kind exemplified by David Cameron] may not be enough when the British people realize that their current predicament . . .is actually worse than the crisis when Mrs. Thatcher came to power in 1979.”

“The Iron Lady” is not a particularly good movie. In structure and feel, it’s much more a one-woman play than it is a film. But on the screen it’s a success nonetheless, if only because, perhaps without meaning to, it displays conviction politics in their purest, most elemental, and most attractive form.

 

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The Truth About Income Inequality

Nothing, it seems, gets the left more worked up these days than the specter of growing income inequality, the gap between the income of the poorest quintile and the highest, and, especially, the gap between the incomes of the top one-percent and the rest of us.

The New York Times has one of its usual editorials this morning:

Republicans are indeed in growing trouble as more voters begin to realize how much the party’s policies — dismantling regulations, slashing taxes for the rich, weakening unions — have contributed to inequality and the yawning distance between the middle class and the top end.

One wonders how “slashing taxes for the rich” contributes to income inequality. There are only two ways it could do so, as taxes don’t diminish income, only disposable income. Either the money taxed away would be given to the less-rich, swelling their incomes, or cutting taxes on the rich stimulates the economy, increasing the incomes of the rich (and everyone else). I vote for the latter. I doubt the Times does.

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Nothing, it seems, gets the left more worked up these days than the specter of growing income inequality, the gap between the income of the poorest quintile and the highest, and, especially, the gap between the incomes of the top one-percent and the rest of us.

The New York Times has one of its usual editorials this morning:

Republicans are indeed in growing trouble as more voters begin to realize how much the party’s policies — dismantling regulations, slashing taxes for the rich, weakening unions — have contributed to inequality and the yawning distance between the middle class and the top end.

One wonders how “slashing taxes for the rich” contributes to income inequality. There are only two ways it could do so, as taxes don’t diminish income, only disposable income. Either the money taxed away would be given to the less-rich, swelling their incomes, or cutting taxes on the rich stimulates the economy, increasing the incomes of the rich (and everyone else). I vote for the latter. I doubt the Times does.

The Times argues that the growing inequality is stoking tensions across class lines, which the AP also claimed. “Two-thirds of Americans now say there is a strong conflict between the rich and the poor, according to a Pew survey released last week, making it the greatest source of tension in American society.”

But as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Thursday, that’s not what the Pew survey said:

In fact, Pew does not claim to have found, as the AP falsely asserts, that “tensions between rich and poor are increasing.” It finds, rather, that “perceptions of class conflict” and “the belief that these disputes are intense” have become more prevalent, especially since 2009.

The Times’ editorial board, apparently, does not read the New York Times, which got the story right on Wednesday.

In fact, of course, the growing gap in incomes between the very rich and the middle class is a product of the extraordinary technological revolution the global economy is in the midst of, thanks to the microprocessor. Powerful new technologies (the steam engine, railroads, the telegraph, petroleum, the telephone, automobiles, the movies, etc.) always cause an inflorescence of new, huge fortunes, which automatically increase the gap between the very rich and the middle class.  Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many gigantic fortunes have been created thanks to the microprocessor. Some of those fortunes were created by people still in their 20s.

The hyperventilating on the left over income inequality is almost entirely self-interested: an excuse for transferring the new wealth from the people who created it (and made us all richer thereby) to politicians who will use it to buy votes.

Margaret Thatcher was on to their game (hat tip: Instapundit), as she made more than clear in her last speech in the House of Commons.

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The Ideas Lady

Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher is a touching reminiscence about a tenacious woman’s relation to her loyal husband and family, from whom she feared she had been too distant as a result of her overwhelming political ambition. There is plenty the movie – well worth seeing – does well, and plenty it does not (review here).

Granted, the movie is a biopic, a portrait of a person, not an era. That said, more could have been made about her cabinet, about her relationship to the queen, about Europe, about the Soviet Union, about Reagan, and about a host of other relationships and conflicts that featured in her lengthy tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

But what cannot be granted is that the movie is intended as a depiction of Thatcher, and not Thatcherism; yet to take the latter out of the former is to reduce her life to the story of a determined, perhaps ruthless, politician, albeit one who was uniquely successful. That may be entertaining, but it is not edifying. Nor is it fair. Read More

Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher is a touching reminiscence about a tenacious woman’s relation to her loyal husband and family, from whom she feared she had been too distant as a result of her overwhelming political ambition. There is plenty the movie – well worth seeing – does well, and plenty it does not (review here).

Granted, the movie is a biopic, a portrait of a person, not an era. That said, more could have been made about her cabinet, about her relationship to the queen, about Europe, about the Soviet Union, about Reagan, and about a host of other relationships and conflicts that featured in her lengthy tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

But what cannot be granted is that the movie is intended as a depiction of Thatcher, and not Thatcherism; yet to take the latter out of the former is to reduce her life to the story of a determined, perhaps ruthless, politician, albeit one who was uniquely successful. That may be entertaining, but it is not edifying. Nor is it fair.

The Thatcher character herself declares: ‘‘It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone,’’ and yet we see so little of that ‘‘something.’’ Given the movie (justifiably) takes dramatic license with the historical record, it is regrettable that it omitted, for instance, the story of a Tory Party meeting where Thatcher, as the new party leader, slammed on the table a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and announced, “This is what we believe!” And that it does not reference that it was the Soviet media which dubbed her the “Iron Lady” because of her unfaltering opposition to Communism.

Perhaps it should not come as surprising, though, that a movie from Harvey Weinstein would choose to downplay Thatcher’s ideas and vision for her country–a prosperous Britain at home, built on small businesses and free from excessive government and from the trade union stranglehold that had choked the country through the 1970s, and a strong and unafraid Britain abroad. But in portraying her as little more than a yuppie pioneer – concerned predominantly with her own professional advancement – one wonders if the moviemakers sought not merely to downplay her ideas, but indeed to discredit them.

And yet it is about precisely these ideas of free enterprise at home and principled action abroad that this coming presidential election will be fought, and the moviemakers’ effort to marginalize those ideas may betray their recognition that, thanks to the leadership of, among others, the iron lady, they still have the same force today as they did then.

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