When Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain, died last week, millions mourned.
This was especially true in the United States, where a survey showed about seven of 10 Americans liked her, four of them very much.
She is the ideological twin of America’s Ronald Reagan, whose Reaganomics matched her Thatcherism, with both economic policies inimical to high taxes and big government.
Meryl Streep’s sympathetic portrayal of her in the 2011 film “The Iron Lady” enhanced her image. Streep played with bravura Maggie Thatcher as rising star and then national leader at the height of power. She also played her with sensitivity as an elderly recluse in the merciless grip of dementia.
The British population is divided between her fierce admirers and those gleeful at her death. When Thatcher haters heard she died, they poured into the streets dancing and singing, “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead!”
Now they are clamoring for BBC to air that song.
The real witches — practitioners of Wicca, a modern pagan religion — angrily protest the comparison. They rattle off her “evil deeds,” which no self-respecting witch would inflict.
These were the side effects of Thatcherism: the slaughter of the coal miners’ unions, the massacre of small and medium enterprises by supermarkets and big business, the downside of privatization, the massive reduction in welfare spending.
Thatcherites are waging a robust counterprotest. They urge people to buy the punk single, “I’m in Love With Maggie Thatcher.”
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard braces for possible violence at her funeral. In death, as much as she was in life, she is an immense polarizing presence.
She wouldn’t have risen to power if she had served an Asian constituency. Asia has its share of women leaders, but there is always some bigger-than-life patriarch — father, husband or brother — associated with their rise. That’s true of South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra, Indonesia’s Megawati Soekarnoputri, the Philippines’ Corazon Aquino. Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi is no exception.
Maggie Thatcher had an inspiring father and some male political mentors but none had a very large presence.
Hence, she never deferred to men. She was often the only woman in a room full of men of high station, but she won every debate and made all the decisions.
They called her “the Iron Lady” because she never betrayed her emotions. She appeared to be all policy and no feelings. The feminist movement disowned her because she didn’t behave “like a woman.” She was disparaged for her lower-class birth, being a grocer’s daughter.
Yet few made history the way she did. She lifted Britain from the socialist morass that followed World War II. Maybe she overdid the free market buildup, but she restored British pride and gave Britain a booming voice in international affairs.
The only British prime minister to win three successive elections starting with a landslide win in 1979, she led the nation to a triumphant war against Argentina over the Falklands in 1982. Then she teamed up with President Reagan in managing the defrost of the Cold War and the meltdown of the Soviet Union.
After losing office in 1990 by daring to be unpopular, she was succeeded by a series of prime ministers, the best of whom, Tony Blair, was a pale version of her.
What the world doesn’t know is the real Maggie, who had a happy marriage with a businessman, Denis Thatcher, who did not begrudge her fame. Already prime minister, she still cooked breakfast for her children and dinner for him.
She was devastated when Denis died in 2003.
No philistine, she read books and loved music.She was, after all, as human as you and I and the housewife next door.