When Margaret Thatcher was elected England’s first female prime minister in the spring of 1979, I was 12 years old and my father had been a congressman for less than four months. To me, it seemed as if it would be only a short while until my own country followed suit and elected a woman to serve as president.
Of course, in my mind, it would be a conservative woman, strong willed, committed, determined and articulate. Like Thatcher.
Thatcher served as prime minster for more than 11 years, stepping down only after a power struggle within her own Conservative Party. By then, I had just received my graduate degree, was working as a consultant and was studying for the CFA exam, which I subsequently passed.
While I was neither a citizen nor a resident of Britain, Thatcher was ever dominant and prominent in my formative years. Along with President Ronald Reagan, she stood against the Soviet Union and shook the very foundation of communism, which resulted in the final collapse of the symbol of a divided world — the Berlin Wall.
This was a time where unlike today, arguments were clear, alternatives were known and faith in people rather than faith in governments or institutions won out.
While Reagan was known for his quick wit and self-depreciating humor, Thatcher was known for being strong-willed and determined. She reminded me of my mother: determined and results-oriented.
Thatcher was serious, her convictions were solid, and she had a clear moral compass, but was still able to connect with everyday people. She was clear about her purpose: to save Britain from moral corruption and thereby change the course of history.
Change history she did indeed.
The least of her accomplishments was, perhaps, becoming the first woman to serve as prime minister. She went on to become much more — she was the Iron Lady. Many of her beliefs ran counter to what is accepted as standard today.
“I came to office with one deliberate intent,” she said in a speech in 1984, “to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society — from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation; a get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.”
She understood and labeled the enemy of her nation, “socialism itself — in all its incarnations, wherever and however it was applied — was morally corrupting.” It was corrupting because of what it did to people, she said. “Socialism turned good citizens into bad ones; it turned strong nations into weak ones; it promoted vice and discouraged virtue...transformed formerly hardworking and self-reliant men and women into whining, weak and flabby loafers.”
She was not concerned about making friends or handing out olive branches. Instead, she was focused on what she believed was best for Britain.
Her theory on where money comes from was practical rather than theoretical. “Pennies don’t fall from heaven; they have to be earned here on earth,” she said.
In the end, Thatcher was elected because she spoke the language of everyday people. “My policies,” she said, “are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.”
Thirty-four years after Britain elected Thatcher, her core arguments are at odds with how we operate. We argue not for self-reliance, but how much government should help. Redistribution, once the code word for socialism, is now condoned under the guise of social programs. The process of politics is watched on a daily basis, and the means are more important than the goal — which often is never met.
Instead of worrying about earning pennies, we simply print more money in an attempt to stimulate the economy. Instead of fiscal restraint, we delude ourselves into thinking declines in growth rates of expenses are cuts in fiscal policy.
It’s as if we live in a totally different time, where instead of faith in our people, their drive and their self-determination, our faith is in government.
Possibly, we are at the end of an era where the values were clearer, the arguments more forceful and faith in people won out over faith in government and institutions.
She will be missed.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.