There is a fascinating book by Irving Stone entitled, They Also Ran, the story of men defeated for the presidency. Stone, an historian, also analyzes the races to determine if the people chose wisely.
It’s a fascinating concept, as readers are left pondering how history may have been altered had there been a different outcome.
The opposite also holds true — how history would have changed had the winner not been victorious.
Reflecting on the the passing of England’s Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, it seems obvious — for so many reasons — that the Brits did indeed choose their leader wisely. And for the most part, the world owes them a debt of gratitude for doing so, for it is far safer because of Maggie.
With both Ronald Reagan and Thatcher now gone, the pangs of sadness resonate with the ending of a golden era. For those who lived through superpower showdowns and nuclear war games, it is impossible not to give Thatcher a special place in your heart. As America’s greatest ally in the Cold War, she never wavered in looking the mightiest Evil Empire of all time right in the eye, saying, "Give me your best shot — I can take it."
Every generation has a tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses, remembering the good times while letting the bad melt away. It’s a human trait that allows us to move past traumatic events so that life can continue.
However, one can make a strong case that, rainbows and lollypop reminiscing aside, the 1980’s truly were a remarkable decade, an enviable time when the country was unified, evidenced by substantial electoral victories by Reagan (and Thatcher). It was an era marked by monumental events thought unthinkable just a decade prior. The malaise of the 70’s had significantly eroded people’s faith, not just in their leaders, but in themselves. Optimism for a better tomorrow hit a brick wall in America and Britain, and for good reason: runaway inflation; interest rates of 20 percent; rationed gas; an aggressive Soviet Union; and the Iranian hostage crisis (444 days long). The pinnacle of failure came during the calamitous rescue attempt, which, in addition to the gut-wrenching loss of life, was an embarrassment of epic proportions.
It was this widespread self-doubt and loss of hope that led to the election of Reagan and Thatcher. They took the helm of a West in search of its identity, and carried the dreams of billions on their shoulders. In charting a new course, they once again lit the beacons of hope, resurrecting the West to become that famous shining City Upon A Hill.
And they succeeded. Big time.
Hostages were freed, militaries were beefed up, and economies roared back to life. With work came prosperity — hopes and dreams were not just restored, but realized. Peace through strength became the mantra, and though that policy was wildly effective (it eventually bankrupted and destroyed the Soviet Union, freeing hundreds of millions), it was not without its tests.
Who could forget Thatcher’s decisiveness in immediately dispatching the British fleet to reclaim the Falklands after they were invaded? That act of war by the Argentinians, by the way, was calculated on the belief that Britain had neither the resources nor the stomach to wage a conflict half a world away.
Were they ever wrong.
A throwback to another era — and likely the last time we’ll ever see it— Ships of the British Line steaming 8,000 miles in the mold of Nelson and Hornblower, freeing the people and routing the Argentinians. Perhaps most significant, Thatcher’s bold action put an exclamation point on the undeniable fact that British Pride was back.
Years later, Thatcher took considerable heat — but never faltered — when she allowed American bombers based in Britain to attack Libya after Gaddafi’s acts of terror. And of course, her chiding of George H.W. Bush as he wavered about helping Kuwait after Iraq’s invasion will forever define her testicular fortitude: "Remember George, this is no time to go wobbly!" Classic Margaret Thatcher.
Back home, she embarked on the Herculean task of reviving the sluggish, bureaucrat-laden economy, succeeding by instituting labor reforms, free-market principles and privatization initiatives. Just like Reagan, she endured some very tough days before things turned around, but she held fast, declaring to doubters in her own Party, "You turn if you want to…this Lady’s not for turning."
Turn she did not. And she was reelected twice.
As effective as Thatcher was, she had her drawbacks, none more significant than her handling of Northern Ireland. Declaring "crime is crime is crime; it is not political," she let Bobby Sands and nine other Irish prisoners die from their hunger strike as they protested their deplorable conditions and political status.
Debating the England-Ireland issue is for another column. It is clear, however, that while Thatcher made some progress for peace in Northern Ireland, it wasn’t nearly enough. True, the conflict didn’t originate on her watch, but as a strong-willed leader, she could have and should have done more to rectify that situation. Too many —on both sides — died, too many families were needlessly ripped apart, and too many lives were ruined in Ireland during Maggie’s reign.
With few exceptions, the British Empire left the places they occupied considerably better off than when they found it. Not so with Northern Ireland, and the troubles occurring there in the 1980’s remain a black mark on what is otherwise a legacy for the record books.
Reflecting on the 1980’s, it is clear that both Americans and Brits were far more unified in their respective countries. Sure, there were political rivalries and disagreements, but not nearly as mean-spirited and downright uncivil as today. Thatcher and Reagan could have a knock-down, drag-out fight with an opponent during the day and share a beer — and a laugh —that evening.
Maybe that was because we weren’t the only superpower back then. We knew the sobering capabilities of our enemy — and the consequences of failure in meeting its challenges. Maybe it was because, despite our political differences, that Cold War kept us sharply focused, binding us together as a people facing the ultimate threat.
But even more, it was because we had great leaders, true visionaries who believed in a hell of a lot more than themselves and their next election. Great communicators, Reagan and Thatcher were principled, God-fearing stalwarts who made us once again believe in something that had been lost before they came along: ourselves.
Gipper, your best friend is with you again. Iron Lady, thank you. Rest in Peace.
Chris Freind is an independent commentator who operates FreindlyFireZone.com. He can be reached at [email protected]