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ThinkProgress: Mrs. Thatcher Was an Extremist and a Squish, and That’s Why the GOP Is Bad


I must confess to being slightly surprised by the schizophrenic nature of some of today’s criticisms of Mrs. Thatcher. I had fully expected to hear that Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister abolished compassion and stole milk from children and started a war and ruined everything that was holy and good in pursuit of greater profits for the evil rich. But I hadn’t quite expected the she-wasn’t-actually-that-conservative line to be thrown in as well. Mrs. Thatcher, it seems from some of today’s commentary, was an extremist but also a squish; a sort of extremist squish, if you will, and she was bad enough both to make it obvious that you shouldn’t admire her and to show — somehow! — that the American GOP is out of touch. For a stellar example of this, take a look at the always entertaining Annie-Rose Strasser’s latest contribution to public discourse, in which we are informed that “while Thatcher stands as a role model for modern conservativism here in the United States, her policies likely wouldn’t hold up under the scrutiny of a modern-day GOP.” Why? Well, for one, because “She supported socialized medicine.” 

First off the bat, the claim that Mrs. Thatcher was a full-throated advocate of Britain’s NHS isn’t quite true — as recently declassified papers show. (This should be evident to anyone who clicks the link that Strasser provides and takes a look at the context out of which she has so cleverly drawn Mrs. Thatcher’s words.) What is certainly true is that the British support socialized medicine and that, when she had far bigger fish to fry, Mrs. Thatcher wasn’t stupid enough to touch it. But this doesn’t really show what Strasser thinks it does. Mrs. Thatcher would have been rejected by the GOP at any time in its history if she’d openly supported socialized medicine. And, for most of its history too, the Democratic party would have followed suit. In fact, as Strasser notes, Obamacare is not quite “socialized” medicine. Even now, somebody supporting the government-owned and -run system under which my fellow countrymen suffer daily would get nowhere near the White House in these United States. (And nor should they: Britain’s system is a dinosaur whose model most other countries with single payer have abandoned). Nor, incidentally, would the “old” GOP have been greatly happy with the other positions Strasser mentions; those being the banning of semi-automatic weapons, belief in climate change, and various (misleadingly presented) “tax increases.”

I understand that the Left remains hellbent on pretending that the contemporary GOP is unprecedentedly conservative and that formerly hated Republican politicians of the past all become magically reasonable once they’re out of power or dead. But to draft a British politician into the mix makes a silly tendency a nonsensical one. America — surprise! — is a different country than Britain, and it has a different political system, history, and set of challenges. The Steve Stockman (R., Tx) quote in the “update” at the bottom of Strasser’s post is, I presume, intended to back up Strasser’s point. But it does no such thing. Stockman is correct when he says that Mrs. Thatcher took a “sledgehammer to the machinery of liberalism”; it was just different machinery than we have here in America. It is genuinely fascinating to observe that, if it aids in bashing the Republicans, ThinkProgress and its acolytes are happy to make even Mrs. Thatcher look like a moderate. 

Of course, Strasser can’t have you thinking that Thatcher was a good egg, so she finishes with an assurance that:

Thatcher was far from a progressive champion. Her policies threw the United Kingdom into recession, decimated British labor unions, and sharply divided the country she reigned over for nearly 12 years.

This is a risible appraisal of a stellar record and it can only have been written by someone who is embarrassingly historically ignorant, deeply dishonest, or who has been told what to write. (Possibly all three.) Certainly, Mrs. Thatcher, like Ronald Reagan, did not solve every problem that her country faced and nor did she usher the British into sunlit uplands within moments of taking the reins. Instead, she set out to do a few things: limit the crushing power of the unions, reform the supply side of the economy, end the desperate penchant for nationalization (it took an average of 3 months to get a telephone installed), bring the Soviets down a peg and stand on the side of those they oppressed, restore British pride, deregulate industry, curb inflation (25 percent in the late 1970s), abolish wage and price controls. These things she achieved.

And thank God that she did. The Britain of the late 1970s was one in which thirty million workdays per year were to never-ending strikes; in which trash piled up in the streets; in which corpses went unburied; and in which electricity was governed by the “three-day week,” a regime that limited consumers to three days’ consumption of electricity each week. (Blackouts were the norm.) It was a country that had lost its way and had little idea how to find it. Annie-Rose Strasser doesn’t mention the period before Mrs. Thatcher’s premiership, making it appear as if Thatcher came in and ruined a well-functioning country with her unnecessary and capricious theories rather than heroically saved a sinking ship. But it always makes sense to ask what led to a particular action, and, in the case of Mrs. Thatcher’s government, it was the widespread paralysis and nonsense of the post-war consensus that led to the harsh medicine that was necessary to turn things around. Annie-Rose Strasser’s complaint is fair: Mrs. Thatcher was no “progressive champion”; instead, she saved us from them.