Margaret Thatcher Wasn't Really a Conservative
Ramesh, you put your finger on what distinguishes today's American conservatives from Margaret Thatcher. She was controversial for good reasons, not for no reason at all.
Look at Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a man in a hurry, who will do anything to be provocative. He even questioned the loyalty and patriotism of Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel at Hagel's hearings to be defense secretary.
"I'm controversial, I must be doing something right" is the mantra of so many on Capitol Hill. One of the good things about the gun-control debate is that controversy for its own sake is taking a back seat to getting something done. Those grabbing headlines are doing the nasty -- compromising. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and a Republican, aren't just finding common ground, they are saying nice things about each other in public.
Back to Thatcher. Thatcher got to be Thatcher because of the enormity of her task. Malaise doesn't capture what nationalization had wrought: Basic services were unobtainable. There wasn't consensus on what had to be done to get the trains running and phones installed. Many looking at long unemployment queues and the end of free milk in the schools wanted to trip her with their brollies. But there was consensus that something had to be done.
Then came Thatcher with a plan. Former President Bill Clinton once observed that politics rewards those who are certain and wrong over those who are hesitant and right. The corollary of that is that someone with a plan is better than someone without. We don't remember her occasional compromising, Ramesh -- on the miners and the IRA -- because she didn't trumpet it as such. Her power derived from her style. She needed to be seen as ramrod straight, captured by one of her most famous quotes: "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning."
The most interesting review of Thatcher's reign -- other than yours, Ramesh! -- came, surprisingly, from Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC. By prevailing American standards, O'Donnell noted, Thatcher was a raging leftie, with a tax rate of 60 percent for most of her term, her belief in universal health care, and her embrace of evolution and global warming. What's more, she told her citizens that to avert climate change, those in developed countries were just going to have to pay more than those in undeveloped countries.
How poignant that Thatcher was drummed out not by working stiffs, but by her own Tories, who couldn't abide her resistance to the Eurozone. It helps when your controversial, straight-ahead style is backed up by history. To paraphrase Clinton, the best way for a politician to be is certain and right.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.)