Michael Barone

"Divisive." That's a word that appeared, often prominently, in many news stories reporting the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

One senses the writers' disapproval. You're not likely to find "divisive" in stories reporting the deaths of liberal leaders, although every electoral politician divides voters.

"Divisive" here refers to something specific. It was Margaret Thatcher's special genius that she systematically rejected the conventional wisdom, almost always well-intentioned, of the political establishment.

Instead, she insisted on hard, uncomfortable truths.

British Conservatives like Harold Macmillan accepted the tyranny of trade unionism because they had guilty memories of the slaughter of the working-class men who served under them in the trenches in World War I.

Thatcher, who as an adolescent before World War II saved money to pay for a Jewish girl to escape from Austria to England, felt no such guilt.

She could see that strikes of shipyard workers, auto union members, newspaper printers, gravediggers and garbage collectors were ruining Britain's economy and undermining democratic governance.

She worked hard and patiently, building up coal inventories, to prevent the year-long illegal coal miners' strike led by Arthur Scargill from shutting down the nation's power plants.

She rejected the idea, fostered by the great and the good of the British ruling class, that ordinary people needed public housing. Instead, she let them buy their houses at favorable rates.

She rejected the conventional wisdom that government had to pay for money-losing nationalized industries. Instead she privatized coal, steel, utilities, and transport, and let employees and citizens buy shares in them and partake of the profits.

When Argentina's military dictators occupied the Falkland Islands, she was urged to accept the result. The Falklands were far away, and only 1,800 Britons were affected.

But for Thatcher, they were part of the British nation. She would no more allow them to be thrust under a dictator's heel than she would allow Irish Republican Army terrorists to force Britain out of Northern Ireland against the will of the majority there.

Much has been made, and rightly, of Thatcher's closeness to Ronald Reagan -- though they did have their disagreements. They both hated communism and Soviet tyranny.

But first Thatcher and then Reagan perceived that Mikhail Gorbachev was, in Thatcher's words, "someone we can do business with." The result was a peaceful end to the Cold War.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM


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