Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday morning at 87, was American conservatives’ favorite foreigner.
When Sarah Palin traveled to London she requested a meeting with the former prime minister. (That Mrs. Thatcher declined, reportedly because her aides found the prospect of such an encounter “belittling,” is another matter.) In advance of the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich showed his deep respect for Mrs. Thatcher by comparing himself to her. “Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I’m such an unconventional political figure.”
Her status as a right-wing icon, a hero of modern conservatism almost on par with Reagan, shows no sign of declining with her death. Republican House Speaker John Boehner said earlier today that she was the “greatest peacetime prime minister in British history.” And Representative Steve Stockman, Republican of Texas, released a statement praising Mrs. Thatcher for taking “a sledgehammer to the machinery of liberalism.”
Her conservative reputation was, and is, mostly deserved. She took on the unions. She made cutting remarks about socialism. “To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukemia with leeches,” she once said. The trouble with socialist governments, she said on another occasion, is that “they always run out of other people’s money.”
But today’s Republican Party would likely find her policies a bit too left wing. In 2011, Bruce Bartlett wrote in The Times that Mrs. Thatcher “paid for her 1979 tax cut by nearly doubling the value-added tax to 15 percent, from 8 percent.” She also “did little to reduce the size of the nation’s welfare state” and “strongly supported the National Health Service.” That bears repeating: She supported socialized medicine.
She also supported science, including climate science. The Daily Beast’s David Frum pointed out that more than 20 years ago, in 1990, she publicly acknowledged that global temperatures were rising. “The threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations,” she said at the second world climate conference. “Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently…it’s sensible to re-examine industrial processes.”
However much Mrs. Palin and Mr. Boehner revere Mrs. Thatcher, the icon, their party wouldn’t welcome Mrs. Thatcher, the actual politician. Of course it wouldn’t welcome Reagan, either, who was known for approving budget deals that included raising taxes.