Back when I was still writing speeches and giving policy advice to naïve candidates foolish enough to listen to me, I once told a young, first-time congressional candidate who was depressed about all the negative attacks coming his way that you can tell a lot about a man by the enemies he attracts. Such was the case with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
The vicious loons on the far left were apoplectic when these two towering figures were in office—at the same time! And this week, with the death of Lady Thatcher, her petty, small-minded enemies are staging celebrations of her passing. How pathetic. As much as I detest what Barack Obama is doing to the United States of America, I cannot imagine rejoicing at his demise. As I have tried to teach my children and grandchildren, everyone is loved by someone, and that someone can easily be hurt during a time of grief.
In the case of Margaret Thatcher, she was loved by many and admired by millions. Her combination of dignity and resolve throughout her career has enshrined her name in the ages. Like Reagan, she had that unique ability to tell you to go to hell and yet make you feel as if you might actually enjoy the trip. Now that she is gone, her antagonists diminish themselves with every cheer or nasty comment in which they indulge. Some of these buffoons, who have been planning for this celebration for a decade, are urging people to show up on Saturday in London’s Trafalgar Square to join their tasteless revelry.
Another measurement of greatness by which to gauge a leader is the number of quotes one can attribute to that person. There are certainly exceptions to that rule. For example, while I consider Calvin Coolidge to be the second greatest president of the last one hundred years, after Reagan, the only quote from “Silent Cal” that leaps to mind was his acerbic response at a dinner party to left-wing critic Dorothy Parker. When Parker informed Coolidge that someone had bet her she could not get him to say more than two words, he is reputed to have replied, “You lose.”
However, as a confirmed word geek, I do love great quotes, and as I was contemplating the meaning of Margaret Thatcher’s life, leadership and passing, it occurred to me that one indication of greatness is whether the next generation remembers anything you said. Reagan and Thatcher are quoted endlessly. So was Winston Churchill. In fact, how many prime ministers of the United Kingdom — other than Churchill, Thatcher and Tony Blair — can you even name off the top of your head?
One of the best known utterances from the Iron Lady was “The problem with Socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.” It is a sentiment that she practiced, and her belief in individual achievement helped her lead Great Britain out of some of its darkest days.
Another Thatcher quote echoes Reagan’s first inaugural statement that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” In a 1987 interview with Women’s Own magazine, referring to those who demand more from government, the prime minister said, “They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbors.”
I could not tell you one thing that current British Prime Minister David Cameron has ever uttered. And one of the few quotes from Barack Obama that any of us will remember is the one from his 2008 presidential campaign: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” We will remember that one, and many will regret not having contemplated its true meaning.
May Margaret Thatcher, along with her great friend and ally, Ronald Reagan, rest in peace, and may we be so fortunate as to see such greatness again.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. Readers are encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.