LONDON -- There is a story, probably apocryphal, about Margaret Thatcher who became prime minister 30 years ago this week and led Britain's economic and political revival.
The newly elected Thatcher takes her all-male cabinet to dinner. The waiter asks her what she would like to order.
"I'll have the beef," says she.
"What about the vegetables?" asks the waiter.
"They'll have the same."
The story says much about a woman who in many ways exuded more gravitas than most of her male contemporaries, which is why, in 1990, they conspired to dump her as leader of the Conservative Party.
Not since Winston Churchill -- and not since Thatcher -- has Britain had such a dominant leader; even Tony Blair could not measure up to the Iron Lady.
To gauge her success, one must recall Britain's condition before she took office. Like Jimmy Carter's America in 1979, people were talking about managing Britain's decline. As Robin Harris writes for The Heritage Foundation, "The pace and scale of this revolution justifies the description, even though the chief revolutionary herself was someone of very traditional instincts who always considered that she was restoring what had been lost, not imposing a utopian plan."
This is the definition of "conservatism." Thatcher understood proven principles. She wasn't looking for "new" things, but rather old things that had proven to be successful. She called on the British people to remember their history and to embrace it. She was not indulging in nostalgia so much as she was taking from a living past in order to build a better future. In this, she was the mirror image of Ronald Reagan.
This is the key to leadership. Leadership doesn't lie in poll numbers, though all politicians take polls to measure the public temperature. Leadership is about convictions with ample references to past successes and the principles behind them. If one doesn't bake a cake without first reading the directions, how can a damaged nation be repaired without discerning what works and what doesn't? If a people forget their history -- as too many in Britain and America have done -- they are then susceptible to being snookered by politicians who propose something "new."
Given our self-centeredness, it is refreshing to recall what Lady Thatcher said about personal accountability and responsibility: "Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem and personal satisfaction."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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