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While it is impossible to gauge how much America’s heartland might have been affected by a former British prime minister who was forced from office 23 years ago, several Toledo-area conservatives and scholars believe Margaret Thatcher was as important as former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in protecting their freedoms.
“That trio of leaders at the time had a remarkable impact on the free world or the free-er world,” said Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), a former history teacher at Otsego High School who focused on the British Parliamentary system for his master's degree at Bowling Green State University.A self-avowed “Thatcherite,” Mr. Gardner recalled Ms. Thatcher’s Jan. 23, 1992, visit to the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo, when she addressed 1,400 people who had paid $125 a plate to attend a black-tie dinner sponsored by the Junior League of Toledo.
Ms. Thatcher, one of the world’s most sought-after speakers at the time, had an eight-hour stay in the city, including a VIP reception with tickets priced at $50.
In the fall of 1994, she spoke at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
A bronze statue of Ms. Thatcher is part of Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk, which includes statues of Ronald Reagan, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill.
The Thatcher sculpture, created by California artist Bruce Wolfe and dedicated in 2008, depicts Ms. Thatcher seated in a business suit. It sits at the north entrance of the Strosacker Science Center.
The statues were created after $225,000 was raised for each one through private donations. Part of the money was used to make the sculptures while the rest was diverted to a scholarship fund, the college said.
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Her Toledo appearance was characterized by her trademark bluntness. She described Soviet communism as “one of the cruelest, most soulless, and heartless creeds known to man” and cited expanded military spending by the United States and Great Britain during the 1980s as the greatest reasons for its downfall. Once the Berlin Wall fell, the world learned about the Vatican’s behind-the-scenes role.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of that decision, first to go ahead with increased military expenditure and then say to them we’re going ahead with the technology,” she said at the Junior League’s event. “It was that which struck fear into the hearts of the people in the Kremlin, because they knew that they could not match the speed of research and technology in finding the solutions and getting them into production that we could do in the West.”
Mr. Gardner said he once got her autograph at an event in Ashland, Ohio. He said America, with its origins as a melting pot, has countless people in the Toledo area with European relatives or descendants who benefited more directly from Ms. Thatcher’s policies.
“The day she announced her resignation in 1990 made me kind of sad, because I knew the world had lost a real champion for liberty and freedom,” Mr. Gardner said.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said it was Ms. Thatcher’s “conservative ideals and strong individualism that helped bring down the Berlin Wall.”
At Hillsdale College, a private school known for its arch-conservative politics, Ms. Thatcher gave a speech two days after the 1994 election. About 2,000 people attended.
Mickey Craig, Hillsdale politics department chairman and professor, said he recalls her greeting Spencer Abraham, a Michigan Republican who had just been elected to the U.S. Senate, with a determined look on her face and this short, but to-the-point phrase: “Don’t waste the moment.”
In other words, seize the opportunity while you have it, Mr. Craig explained.
The Hillsdale professor said Ms. Thatcher and former President Reagan were of the same mindset, that government did not exist to provide welfare, but equal opportunity.
“If government does that, the outcome is better than any political system,” Mr. Craig said.
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David Wilson, a University of Toledo associate professor of political science and a recipient of UT’s outstanding teaching award, said there’s “no question [Ms. Thatcher] was a towering figure in British politics.
“She was a part of the global transformation, that laissez faire, market-based capitalism was the way to go over communism,” Mr. Wilson said. “That philosophy has been dominant in the United States since then, embraced by [George H.W.] Bush and even Bill Clinton, when he talked about new Democrats and the need to deregulate the banking industry.”
The 2008-09 collapse of financial markets raised new questions globally about the extent to which deregulation should occur, but not enough to reverse the trend, Mr. Wilson said.
The labor movement here and elsewhere is not what it was, he said.
“The voice of labor almost everywhere has practically become silent and she was part of that process, whether you want to call it globalization or something else,” Mr. Wilson said.
He said she was removed by her own Conservative Party after factions of it tired of her “bullying style.”
“She did not go willingly or gracefully,” Mr. Wilson said.
Her conservative views, though, are much different from many of today’s conservatives. Scholars agree Mr. Reagan’s were too.
Ms. Thatcher was one of the first world leaders to warn about climate change and support the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-led group of climatologists that later shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. Ms. Thatcher’s 1990 speech on the topic can be found at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108237.
“The extent to which Thatcher recognized climate change would be more shocking to conservatives now than when she made that statement,” Mr. Wilson said.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6079.