Monday, April 08, 2013


I can't say I was ever a Thatcher fan but I feel no particular need to join the ding-dong celebratory parade that seems to be gathering to honor her death. She did some stuff that was way overdue (Falkland War not one of them). And as a whole Maggie, like her good buddy Ronnie, wasn't really as wonderful or as awful as reputation suggests

But there is one remarkable fact around her that doesn't seem to get the notice that you (=I) might expect. That is: her chronic sulk, her appearance of unassuageable inner grievance, her evident sense that somewhere along the line she was being cheated. What's particularly striking in this regard  is how different she presented herself as against her separated-at-birth soulmate across the water, Ronald Reagan. She may have smiled on or twice during her incumbency; I certainly can't remember it and I doubt that any of her countrymen do either.

 Actually, after I wrote that last sentence, I went to Google Images for a reality check.   Okay, there is the occasional smile, even more than two.  Perhaps the interesting takeaway, though is  that the smilers  appear to come mostly from her youth, as if the cascade of political success did nothing to mollify that persistent sense of hurt.  Indeed--I'm sure others have said this before--she seemed almost to reserve her greatest resentment or rancor--certainly her greatest contempt--for those who were (politically) closest to her: the toffs in the Conservative party, the wets, the softies, the "you never had it so good" conservatives who let the undeserving poor get away with so much (Thought experiment: what if Maggie had been caught on camera railing against "the 47 percent?"  My guess is she would have doubled down and told the world that she damn well meant every word.)

The stylistic gulf between her and Reagan is more than just a curiosity: it's a remarkable political paradox.  We seem to take it for granted in America that the reason--the only reason--why Reagan got away with it all is the smile: the easy, affable, nonchalance, so easy to mock and so maddeningly difficult to get round. Comparative case in point: it's easy to forget that both Thatcher and Reagan had a rough go of it in the early 80s.  Both swept to reelection and confounded all opposition.  For Thatcher, the campaign style was confrontational and unapologetic; for Reagan, it was morning in America.

For Thatcher, it seemed it was never morning anywhere.  "Seeming" cannot cannot be entirely true, of course; at any rate she seems also to have been devoted to her husband and he to her.  Her relations with her children--may have been more difficult but the fact is that not even the shamelessly snoopy London press knows much about him. In any event, I'm finding myself recalling a particularly difficult colleague from my past life.  "It is not fun to be around Ignota," we used to say.  "But it would be even less fun to be Ignota."  Thatcher may have succeeded in imposing a good deal of her utopian vision on Britain but it is not so clear she had much fun doing it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jack, whatever her failures and faults Thatcher was a LEADER!

Leaders are necessary and not always dictators or monsters. The Great Man in History notion may be an incomplete explanation of societal change - but as unicausal theories go is about as good as "social forces."

Anyway, nice or not, wrong or right, Maggie WAS a leader.

Ron S.