Margaret Thatcher, the history-changing former British prime minister who died Monday at age 87, was a testament to the power of having a clear philosophy and the will to implement it.
The Iron Lady was a terror to those in her Tory party who gave lip service but not backbone to conservative ideals, and a scourge to those who opposed her political vision. Her place in history as the leader who put major dents in the British welfare state is secure.
She was the first woman to occupy that post, but she did not have a feminist’s concern for gender. She just did the job.
From the right, she was the Joan of Arc of free enterprise, privatizing all before her and revitalizing a stale economy. On the left, she was seen as arrogant, dictatorial, and the enabler of an age of greed.
The adulation of Mrs. Thatcher may be more pronounced in the United States than it has been on her home turf. Here, the right wing has portrayed her as a Ronald Reagan in a skirt.
But defining Mrs. Thatcher as embodying a triumphant vindication of universal political principles goes too far. The more reasoned conclusion is that she was the right leader at the right time.
With its place in the world diminished, Britain in the 1970s was a tired nation, out of ideas and struggling to find a new direction. Unions were too powerful; the overreach of government was too pronounced.
When she became prime minister in 1979, Mrs. Thatcher brought an uncompromising attitude to No. 10 Downing Street. She roared and boldly pounced to seize the Falkland Islands back from the Argentine junta in 1982.
She beat union bosses in a bitter miners strike that began in 1984. She privatized a host of government enterprises.
Mrs. Thatcher was a corrective tonic for an ailing body politic, but medicine isn’t a steady diet for all seasons. In the end, she was ousted by her own Conservative Party — but not before she wrote her way into the history books and put Great Britain on a new page.