Like many world leaders with a clear ideology, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday, will always have great admirers and persistent detractors. But as the years passed since she left office, in 1990, regard for Thatcher began to cross ideological boundaries. She was a role model for women leaders around the world. She broke down divisive class barriers at home. Her can-do spirit energized a country that had lost its ambition. Her willingness to take a hard stand, in the face of fierce opposition, inspired politicians of all stripes.
Thatcher’s impact was felt on this side of the Atlantic, as well; her rise to 10 Downing Street presaged the Reagan Revolution a year later. In the United States, as in Great Britain, the politics of the 1960s had failed to deliver fruit in the ’70s; the world was ready for a change. Thatcher and Reagan had much in common, especially their shared conviction that communism was a corrupt and spent ideology. But Thatcher’s devotion to the free market was different, more down to earth. She modeled her approach to managing Britain to running her father’s grocery store. She didn’t over-indulge in supply-side nostrums: There wasn’t much voodoo in her economics.
Like Reagan, however, she became a right-wing icon because of her unyielding confidence in her principles. Here was a politician who seemed to believe the same things yesterday, today, and tomorrow. She continues to appeal to those who hunger for a one-size-fits-all solution to the world’s problems. But it’s possible to acknowledge Margaret Thatcher’s vast contributions without believing that the by-the-bootstraps conservatism that she represented is applicable to every global issue. Her courage was immense, first in seeking a career path in postwar Britain that was reserved only for men; then in standing up to the condescension of leaders of her own party; then in almost single-handedly curbing the excesses of British trade unionism; and, all the while, giving new hope to hard-working Britons of many backgrounds.
So often in her career she came face-to-face with entrenched interests who disdained her. In almost every instance, she prevailed. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying epitaph.