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Lazio reflects on lunch with Margaret Thatcher

  
   By Robert J. McCarthy

   An interesting retrospective on Margaret Thatcher provided by former Rep. Rick Lazio, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. senator in 2000 and for governor in 2012:

  
My Lunch with the Iron Lady

by Rick Lazio.

 

MT This week funeral services will be held for Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was Britain's longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th Century and perhaps their most consequential and dominant political leader since Winston Churchill.  She was the first woman elected Prime Minister and through force of personality, determination and principle, she became a world leader that changed the course of history.

Several years ago, I had lunch with Baroness Thatcher in the House of Lords.  I recall, upon arrival, being escorted to the dining room by one of her colleagues in that chamber.  Despite having served in one of the world's most historical legislative buildings, it was impossible not to be impressed by the sense of significance, history and authority reflected in Westminster.  I was seated, and almost immediately Mrs. Thatcher greeted me and took her seat.  Now several years out of the Prime Minister's office, she appeared physically frail and her voice had softened.

She was meticulously dressed, nothing out of place.  Her hair was crafted in the familiar style.  We exchanged some pleasantries before she asked about the state of American politics in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Iron Lady listened and then explained the political and moral necessity of standing up to bullies, dictators and terrorism.  She saw the need for America to pull the world toward freedom.  She talked about her experience in the Falklands conflict and how our nations stood together to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990.

For a time she seemed to be lost in her own thoughts, but would spring back to occasionally remind me of what she and President Reagan accomplished together.  She was clearly proud of her relationship with both Reagan and America.  She saw the alliance as essential, and the former actor as a political soul mate willing to stand up to the world's nefarious forces abroad and to champion personal responsibility, free enterprise and limited government at home.  She said that she had no tolerance for those that campaigned on these principles but compromised them away once in office to retain their political position.  Watching her and listening to her points, I thought to myself that, even in declining health, she continued to exude a remarkable strength.  That strength was incubated by conviction.

She hated deficits, government over-reach and  politicians who bought votes by making promises that destroyed individual initiative and responsibility.  In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Thatcher was drawn to "what is best in America: freedom, enterprise, opportunity and the urge for self improvement."  She said she wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be a shopkeeper, an entrepreneur, an investor.  She saw that potential limited by a government that constructed barriers to achieving that goal: rules that limited work, flexibility, investment and accountability.  She believed instinctively that enterprise must be in the hands of people in the private sector and spent enormous political capital devolving state owned enterprises to the private sector.  When she took office as Prime Minister, the government employed about 30% of the workforce and ran many of the largest and best known companies in key industries.  Its record was horrendous.  However, by 2009, state owned industries were responsible for only 2% of the economy, because of the programs put in place by Thatcher.

For the next eleven and one half years Thatcher "stopped printing excess money to kill inflation, cut marginal tax rates to unleash private incentives, privatized public housing so the poor could own their own homes, did away with the currency, and price and wage controls to eliminate the distortions they imposed on the economy, curbed runaway spending and sold off one state asset after another so they might be competently and profitably managed." said the Journal.

I said to Lady Thatcher that I was amazed and impressed that she was able to accomplish so many necessary, but controversial changes and stay in power for over eleven years.  She looked at me for a brief moment, clearly not charmed by the compliment, and said that the Conservative Party stayed in power because the British people wanted the country to work.  It was fed up with unions and interest groups that had caused paralysis.  Thatcher said they were allowed to govern because they stayed true to their principles and precisely because their knees didn't buckle when the fight came to them.

True, Margaret Thatcher had an unrivaled reservoir of political courage, but she realized that she had to win people over.  Like her contemporary, Ronald Reagan, she combined a sense of purpose and a cohesive political philosophy with an understanding of the demands of leading in a democracy.  She once said that "Democracy isn't just about deducing what the people want.  Democracy is leading the people as well."

She knew who she was and, with Ronald Reagan, she decisively lead at a pivotal moment for the world.   I will long remember the way the aging leader spoke about Reagan.  She greatly admired him, generally referring to him as President Reagan but occasionally calling him just plain "Ronnie" during a story.  She talked about how, together, they saw the world; about how she could depend on America and how America could depend on Great Britain.  She explained the alliance without sentiment, but with gratitude.

The world is a better place because of the life of Margaret Thatcher.  When she is put to rest this week, America should likewise feel gratitude for the leadership and unwavering friendship of the Iron Lady.  Three decades after the UK's first female Prime Minister took office, her vigorous, principled foreign policy and transformational free market economic ideals continue to shape the world.

May she rest in peace.

 

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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