Paul Greenberg
. .

"To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase -- the U-turn -- I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to; the lady's not for turning."

--Margaret Thatcher at a Conservative Party conference in 1980, when it was widely assumed she would turn from her conservative principles in a bid to restore her party's popularity.

. . Books will be, and already have been, devoted to the changes Margaret Thatcher wrought not only in Britain but in the world. She was a revolutionary leader, or would counterrevolutionary be the better term?

She found her country sinking into the usual stagnant fen that years of socialist policies inevitably produce -- a kind of decay that is all the deeper and steadier for being confused with progress.

But the once obscure Conservative back-bencher, the member for Finchley, with her housewife's understanding of the economic realities, saw through the whole racket and, more impressive, got her countrymen to see through it.

Margaret Thatcher had a tendency to go to the essence of an issue. The trouble with socialists, she once said, is that they eventually run out of other people's money. Which was the point Britain was reaching when she moved into No. 10 Downing Street -- and stayed. She would become the longest-serving British prime minister since Gladstone in the late 19th century. By the time she was through counterrevolutionizing, millions of Britons once confined to government housing projects were freed to buy their flats, the labor unions that had regularly brought the country to a standstill had been checked, and a rising new middle class of investors and entrepreneurs launched. In short, the economy had been set free. And to top it all, the country got a leader who talked straight.

Nor did the lady revolutionize only economic policy, substituting the judgment of millions (it's called the free market) for that of the anointed few running things and ruining them. Mrs. Thatcher was equally adamant about the need to stand fast in a world full of threats. She was so effective at it that it becomes harder and harder to remember what that world, half free and half slave, was like. And the imminent danger of nuclear war it posed.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.