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In the End, Did Thatcher Win Or Lose?

That is the question that Mark Steyn posed yesterday at National Review. Was it a good piece? Hey, it was one of our Picks. It also echoed some of the themes I developed here. But, as my then-21-year-old son said after meeting him for the first time, “Mark Steyn is a genius.” Which is not, needless to say, how he ever described me.

Mark is a sort of honorary Englishman, so his thoughts on the current state of the U.K. should be heeded. Please do read it all; here is a sample:

A few hours after Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday, the snarling deadbeats of the British underclass were gleefully rampaging through the streets of Brixton in South London, scaling the marquee of the local fleapit and hanging a banner announcing, “THE BITCH IS DEAD.” Amazingly, they managed to spell all four words correctly. By Friday, “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” from The Wizard of Oz, was the No. 1 download at Amazon U.K.

Mrs. Thatcher would have enjoyed all this. …

In the preferred euphemism of the American press, Mrs. Thatcher was a “divisive” figure, but that hardly does her justice. She was “divided” not only from the opposition party but from most of her own, and from almost the entire British establishment, including the publicly funded arts panjandrums who ran the likes of the National Theatre and cheerfully commissioned one anti-Thatcher diatribe after another at taxpayer expense. And she was profoundly “divided” from millions and millions of the British people, perhaps a majority.

Nevertheless, she won. …

In Britain in the Seventies, everything that could be nationalized had been nationalized, into a phalanx of lumpen government monopolies all flying the moth-eaten flag: British Steel, British Coal, British Airways, British Rail . . . The government owned every industry — or, if you prefer, “the British people” owned every industry. And, as a consequence, the unions owned the British people. The top income-tax rate was 83 percent, and on investment income 98 percent. No electorally viable politician now thinks the government should run airlines and car plants and that workers should live their entire lives in government housing. But what seems obvious to all in 2013 was the bipartisan consensus four decades ago, and it required an extraordinary political will for one woman to drag her own party, then the nation, and subsequently much of the rest of the world back from the cliff edge.

Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility. The Falklands were an itsy bitsy colonial afterthought on the fringe of the map, costly to win and hold, easy to shrug off — as so much had already been shrugged off. After Vietnam, the Shah, Cuban troops in Africa, Communist annexation of real estate from Cambodia to Afghanistan to Grenada, nobody in Moscow or anywhere else expected a Western nation to go to war and wage it to win. Jimmy Carter, a ditherer who belatedly dispatched the helicopters to Iran only to have them crash in the desert and sit by as cocky mullahs poked the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV, embodied the “leader of the free world” as a smiling eunuch. Why in 1983 should the toothless arthritic British lion prove any more formidable?

Ah, but it did. Thanks solely to Mrs. Thatcher. She succeeded gloriously, but once she was gone, England seemed committed, once more, to decline:

A generation on, the Thatcher era seems more and more like a magnificent but temporary interlude in a great nation’s bizarre, remorseless self-dissolution. She was right and they were wrong, and because of that they will never forgive her.

Clearly, “they” never have. The key point here is that “they” include not just coal miners who haven’t had a mine to work in for decades, but pretty much the entire British establishment, from the BBC on down. Today they are getting their revenge, perhaps, but it is revenge of an extraordinarily sad kind: a commitment to failure, once more ascendant.

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