Consider the prime minister's reaction to caution flags hoisted by her own foreign office as the Royal Navy, in 1982, prepared to take back the Falkland Islands from the Argentines. Mrs. Thatcher allowed in her memoirs that certain of the cautions had force; e.g., "the risk of the Soviets becoming involved, the disadvantage of being looked at as a colonial power."
Yes? Really? "(W)hen you are at war you cannot allow the difficulties to dominate your thinking: you have to set out with an iron will to overcome them. And anyway what was the alternative? That a common or garden dictator should rule over the Queen's Subjects and prevail by fraud and violence? Not while I was Prime Minister."
A queen of the English people had spoken in like vein, 400 years earlier: " ... and (I) think foul scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm."
Courage and firmness, against the Armada or the Argentines, have their effects -- generally positive ones. At worst they remind all within earshot that the right thing to do, at grave moments, is to do the right thing.
Margaret Thatcher built a legend, not just a career, on doing what her highly reliable conscience told her was right and necessary. For the world, and even her own country, taking the measure of this remarkable woman required study and time. She wore moral armor in preference to the shifting fashions of political advantage and survival. A "conviction politician," to use the phrase she applied to herself, she rode full tilt at political dragons: of whom there were vast numbers in late 20th century Britain.
The socialists had made a mess of a great nation. Around the world, Great Britain was known as "the sick man of Europe" (a reproach previously directed at Ottoman Turkey). "(T)he British Government (she wrote) ... jammed a finger in every pie." "It levied high rates of tax on work, enterprise, consumption, and wealth transfer." The Labor Party "gloried in planning, regulation, controls, and subsidies."
Compromise with a system she despised wasn't likely to work. "To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukemia with leeches. ... We had to stress continually that, however difficult the road might be and however long it took to reach our destination, we intended to achieve a fundamental change of direction. We stood for a new beginning, not more of the same." A new beginning they got, thanks to Mrs. Thatcher and the politics of conviction.
I could go on and on in praise of a great and heroic lady. I think there may be some point in bearing down on the dispirited state of politics here in Mrs. Thatcher's valued ally, the United States. What to do; what to do? What deals to cut, what rough edges to smooth down, enabling American conservatives to contest the successes of the left wing in American life: so similar to those the pre-Thatcher British faced 40 years ago?
Margaret Thatcher saw her country's vain, strutting left as less in need of conciliation and compromise than of overthrow through the expedient of democratic electoral politics. She won! She brought off the enterprise of changing facts on the ground by reinvigorating faith in freedom.
Whom did she herself admire? Ronald Reagan: "buoyant, self-confident, good-natured;" a man who "instinctively felt and thought as I did; not just about policies but about a philosophy of government, a view of human nature, all the high ideals and values which lie -- or ought to lie -- beneath any politician's ambition to lead his country." And might again. No one can foresee what's likely to happen, even in politics, when crisis meets up with courage, vision and willpower.