The Cold Warriors who retired near their former Offutt Air Force Base posts need no reminder about the quality of leader the world lost Monday.
They know the measure of the woman who, as the daughter of a grocer, reminded class-conscious Britons of their island nation’s greatness with twin doses of cruise missiles and can-do attitude.
Margaret Thatcher, who fell to a stroke at age 87, reversed three-plus decades of British economic decline and helped win the Cold War. She restored the United Kingdom’s place among world military powers, allowing her and President Ronald Reagan to serve as security linchpins for free states resisting the Soviet Union.
It was Thatcher who rekindled the pride of an industrial power wounded by years of socialism by stoking the fires of British capital. Over 11˝ years, she led a massive sell-off of state-run industries like telecommunications, helping revive London’s international banking, finance and insurance sectors. She eventually fostered economic growth on a scale that only her California compatriot could match.
No doubt, her decisions came with pain and a price for many in Britain’s lower and middle classes. For people who had propped up their finances on spending by the British state, the 1980s resembled the Great Depression. The country made the transition from an entrenched and unchallenged welfare state to an economically nimbler nation. And, in the end, the working class fared better after than before.
She successfully and publicly married the ideals of hard work and individual freedom as the means to overcome economic malaise, inflation and debt, stern medicine with an important place in American debate. Her persistence eventually sold even her Labor Party opponents on the importance of free markets.
Perhaps most importantly, “the Iron Lady” — Britain’s first and only female prime minister — did all this without succumbing to the doubts of those around her. She did not seek consensus. She used a skill far too fleeting in the modern age — her own judgment. And she did so with flair.
When she saw the next generation of Soviet leadership taking root, she softened her rhetoric against the USSR and spoke openly of Mikhail Gorbachev being a man with whom she could do business.
She talked with ripe disdain of politicians who first surveyed others, finding strength in her convictions. “You don’t follow the crowd,” she was fond of saying. “You make up your own mind.”
She did, and Britain and the world are better for it.