As a child in the 1970s, it was clear to me that something was very wrong with the world, and very wrong with my country. The first political sentiment I can recall is feeling sorry for Jimmy Carter. He was the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, but he was held in contempt, the intensity of which remains clear in my memory today. My parents were not political people, and their friends were not political people, but they had very strong feelings about President Carter. I can remember my older brother reviling President Carter, and he was not yet ten years old. The trouble had something to do with prices and something to do with oil, which seemed strange to me: We were surrounded by oil wells in West Texas, but there were lines at the gas stations. We were surrounded by farms, but my mother was very much occupied with the price of food.
The election of 1980 was not just a vote — it was a repudiation: of Carter and Carterism, of weakness, of decline. A few years later, I led the Reagan side of my sixth-grade presidential debate. The Mondale camp was led by a good friend of mine (who remains a Mondale man to this day, well into the age at which one should know better). If I had understood politics a little better, that would not have surprised me: His parents (lovely people) were college professors, their household a little island of back-east liberalism in a political environment that had in 1978 judged George W. Bush insufficiently conservative to be sent to Congress. What surprised me was not so much that this particular friend was on the other side, but that anybody was on the other side. With the memory of the Carter years fresh in my mind, I fully expected the 1984 election to be unanimous. (And it nearly was: Recount Minnesota!) As I understood things, Ronald Reagan had simply saved the country.
I imagine that certain Britons of my generation felt the same way about Margaret Thatcher. She certainly made an enormous impression on me: this marvelous, brilliant, principled woman who was doing in Great Britain what Reagan was doing here, and taking very little guff in the course of doing so.
And she seemed to be having so much fun. That, I think, is what they never forgave her for. Thatcher laughed at them, mocked them, outwitted and out-debated them. That infuriated the Left: Conservatives aren’t supposed to mock, they are supposed to be mocked. They might be allowed to win a few elections, but they could never be allowed to win the argument, much less to scoff at liberals’ public pieties.
Thatcher won, in no small part because she was her own best case. Her confidence, prudence, good humor, and other virtues were those she sought to encourage in her fellow countrymen.
In that sense, we should be grateful to the odious likes of Ted Rall and Donna Brazile. As the treacly and insincere tributes from the likes of Barack Obama roll in, we should remember: They hated Margaret Thatcher. Hated her. Reviled her. Hated everything she stood for. Still do. So I do not really want to hear any tributes to her from the left side of the political aisle today. If you were not around at the time, it will be hard for you to appreciate the vulgarity and the cruelty of the attacks to which she was subjected. They hated her for the same reason they hated Reagan: She aimed to defeat socialism abroad and socialism at home, appreciating the structural continuity between domestic socialism and the idea’s full expression under the Soviets.
As we celebrate the remarkable life of Margaret Thatcher, it is fitting that we remember the most important aspect of it: She won, and she deserved to win. Those who opposed her and reviled her were on the wrong side of the most important question of their age, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with tyrants, many of them as guilty as those who manned the gulag watchtowers. And even today, when they make their pilgrimages to sit at the feet of Castro or bury Chávez, when they put leftist terrorists on their payrolls, they know: They lost. What they do not know, because they are incapable of understanding the fact, is that they deserved to lose. We should not allow them to pretend that they were on the right side all along.
I have a tendency to slip into an almost Marxist understanding of capital-H History, shaped by the impersonal forces of economics and demographics. But individuals and their choices do matter. Where would we be without Margaret Thatcher and the good work she did? Thatcher changed the world for the better, and those who tried to stop her should not be allowed to forget that they did so — not on this day.