If it's true, as Marc Antony observed over the bier of Julius Caesar that "the good that men do is oft interred with their bones," Margaret Thatcher is an exception proving the rule. Maggie, at 82, is still very much with us, and the bones of her legacy are still up and dancing around with the vigor and grace of a prima ballerina.
The other day, the London Daily Telegraph commissioned a poll to ask who Britons regard as their greatest post-World War II prime minister. Maggie blew everyone away, even Winston Churchill (with the crucial footnote that Sir Winston of the war years was excluded from consideration). If Maggie in her salad days stood for election today, the poll found, she would sweep in with another landslide. Thirty-four percent of those polled said Lady Thatcher was the best of the post-war gaggle, while Sir Winston trailed with 15 percent, and Tony Blair (11 percent), Harold Wilson (9 percent) and Clement Attlee (7 percent) lagged so far behind as to be irrelevant to the exercise.
The findings are no doubt due in part to the historical amnesia that afflicts our age; Winston Churchill is as distant to most voters today as Henry VIII, or any of the wives he discarded to obscurity, or dispatched to the guillotine in his obsessive pursuit of an heir. But Lady Thatcher, who was dumped by the Conservatives 19 years ago, is suddenly attractive to a new generation of voters drawn to the novelty of the politics of conviction. For years after she retired to private life, her own party worked hard to distance itself from her, even as British voters worked hard to distance themselves from her eminently forgettable successors. Now leaders of both British parties are scrambling to identify with, even be photographed with, the "Iron Lady."
The appeal of the politics of conviction is felt on this side of the Atlantic, too. Perhaps it explains the adulatory popularity of Barack Obama with young voters who have not bothered to inquire into Sen. Obama's convictions, yet to be fully revealed. The "change" his followers seek is a change from the politics designed by marketing men, with their endless array of focus groups, consultants and other diversions from conviction, principle and vision. Our politics, like those of the mother country, have descended headlong into the banal, becalmed and lying deep in the shallows. A lot of voters yearn for more than this.