17 April 2013

Burying Thatcher

Many American observers are aghast at the more mean-spirited reactions from Great Britain to the death of Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, there weren't so many overt expressions of hatred here in the U.S. when Ronald Reagan died -- nothing equivalent to the sudden hit status in Britain this week for the song, "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead." That would suggest that the hatred for Thatcher says more about British culture than it does about ideology, or else that there is, after all, a very narrow spectrum of acceptable political expression in the U.S. In any event, the American columnist Cal Thomas is among those outraged by the posthumous scorn the Iron Lady has suffered at home. "If you think U.S. politics has become too corrosive, consider the British variety," he writes, "Call it patty cake vs. cage fighting." This may mean only that Thomas doesn't read many blogs, but despite acknowledging a greater civility in American partisanship he goes on to blame the disrespect shown Thatcher on ideological or sociological phenomena that should also exist in the U.S.

Why such visceral reactions to a woman who served her country for 11 years as prime minister? For many, government is a drug to which they have become addicted. They need the drug to function. Margaret Thatcher tried to break that addiction and get her people to support themselves. Anyone who suggests it is possible even desirable to break the government “habit” becomes the target of the “addicts” and their enabling politicians, both in life and now in death.

Thomas may be misreading the source of British anger. I suspect a lot of it comes not from welfare constituencies but from the remnants of organized labor whose enemy the Iron Lady was. But I suppose Britons might also get angry at anyone who suggests that reliance on government for survival is morally equivalent to drug addiction. My point, however, is that Thomas routinely uses this rhetoric to describe American "addicts" to Democratic liberalism, which should leave him hard pressed to explain the phenomenon he'd already noted: the relative mildness of American partisanship. Where in the U.S. is the rage we should expect, yet Thomas apparently fails to see? Were Britons more addicted to the dole than Americans? Are they still? Or are Britons more open or uninhibited in their hatreds? It is the land of football hooligans, after all....

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On a tangental note, one of the dumbest American commentaries on Thatcher I've seen appears in the current New Yorker. The problem isn't what Hendrik Hertzberg says about Thatcher, but his attempt to blame her rise to power and the hatred expressed toward her in life and death on a lack of Bipolarchy in Britain.

Under Mrs. Thatcher, the Conservative Party did indeed win three successive elections, each of which yielded a parliamentary landslide. But she never truly won “the backing of the British people.” Her share of the popular vote—never more than forty-four per cent—was lower than the loser’s tally in five of the last seven American Presidential elections. Yet because the United Kingdom crams three major parties into a system suited for two—“first past the post,” winner-take-all in every constituency—and because two of those three parties were left of center, Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories were able to amass huge parliamentary majorities. And since a British Prime Minister’s power is largely unfettered, she rarely failed to get her uncompromising way even though most of her fellow-citizens were never in sympathy with her policies. No doubt this was a source of the uniquely venomous quality of the bitterness that she provoked in life and the ugly gloating that, in some quarters, welcomed her death.

Maybe they all should be hating some forgotten British Nader instead.

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Finally, here's some actual reporting from Britain on Thatcher's funeral. 


Anonymous said...

Is it not the government's purpose to see to the welfare of it's people? The private sector has done nothing as far as creating a better life for people. This is true in Britain as it is everywhere else. I get so sick of ignorant swine like Thomas who feel it is the workers' place to grovel and beg from corporations rather than have some modicum of pride and dignity afforded by socialism.

I have to be honest, every day I get closer and closer to punching any scum bag who spews that right-wing rhetoric. I am so sick of being told I need to accept less, I need to tighten my belt, I need to "trust" the free market which is controlled by greedy corporate suits. It has got to be about time for a workers uprising in this country.

Samuel Wilson said...

People like Thomas can't imagine any dignity in socialism because they see it as everyone on the dole. Even if everyone's working, if the state's the employer then it's the dole as far as capitalists are concerned. And despite the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution's preamble -- which I understand wasn't a promise of a "dole" from the Framers -- Republicans and Thatcherite Tories clearly don't believe that government's job is "creating a better life for people." You still have to earn your existence as far as they're concerned, unless you're content with private charity.