Thatcher and Reagan: Why Do They Hate Them So?

February 20th, 2020 4:24 PM

WASHINGTON — I am rounding the last turn of Charles Moore's magisterial biography of Margaret Thatcher. It is no sprint. It is not even a long-distance race. It is a marathon of a literary work, three volumes. Three thick volumes. Yet, as I have said, it is a masterpiece. Charles loves Ms. Thatcher. That is not to say he lets her off easy. Charles is too fine a biographer for that, and Thatcher is too complicated a subject to escape his critical eye. So, he has given us three volumes on the lady who returned Britain to economic health and world significance. Read it for yourself.

Yet, one thing attracted my eye in reading volume two, and it continued to attract my eye in reading volume three. Her enemies hated her. They still hate her. In fact, a rising generation of young Brits hate her now. How very curious.

Liberals hate her. Socialists hate her. Even a few moderates or Tories hate her. Why do they hate her with such singular intensity? I believe it is because she diminished the one thing on which all of the above groups have generally agreed. Some have agreed on it more than others, but all have agreed it was essential to Britain's well-being. What is it? Government.

To those who hate Thatcher, government was always there to help. To Thatcher, it was usually there to harm, with its inefficiencies, its sclerotic bureaucracies and its grand projects that were usually not needed.

Thatcher pretty much believed what Ronald Reagan believed: Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem. How many times did he say the most terrifying words he could imagine were “I'm from the government, and I'm here to help?” Thatcher had her own variation of this line. Reagan and Thatcher got along swimmingly, and, come to think of it, Reagan alone shares a place with her in the bien-pensants' pantheon of hated figures. Donald, your pathway to greatness is clearly marked.

When I first began to visit Britain in the 1970s, it was like visiting an attic in an old mansion belonging to an over-the-hill family. It was quaint, but one could never count on things working. British automobiles, for instance, malfunctioned; usually it was the electrical system. The workers were always on strike. The gentlemen's clubs were open in the late morning, and an astonishing number of gentlemen were in their cups by 2 p.m. They were very amusing in their cups, but by 3 p.m., they were snoozing. That all changed as the 1980s rolled along, and Britain became Great again, all under Thatcher's premiership.

The hatred for Thatcher -- and Reagan, too -- is quite startling to anyone familiar with what they achieved. Through similar policies, they revived two stagnant economies, won the Cold War, and, for Thatcher in Britain, beat back Arthur Scargill's unions. One can sympathize, for instance, with a rank-and-file Labourite who had become used to long vacations and even longer strikes. But actually, it is not the union worker who hates Thatcher the most. It is the Labour Party's leaders, the liberal members in politics, the educators, the government bureaucrats and the malcontents. It is those who think ideologically in Britain and some Tory members who do not think at all. Some merely hate Thatcher because she was a woman.

Hate, after all, has become a matter of pride on both sides of the Atlantic. Some angry-faced punks think it has become a mark of authenticity. Borrowing from Rene Descartes, they might say, “I hate, therefore I am.” It is seen as a genuine emotion. This is not to say one has to be male to be proud of one's hates. Surely Sen. Elizabeth Warren is proud of her hates, and Hillary Clinton is a stupendous hater. My guess is that she has to hate with an intensity almost equal to that of a white supremacist.

Now, of course, hate is not a particularly helpful thing to have. It does not clarify one's vision. Nor does it increase one's determination to get things done. Certainly, Thatcher is nowhere on record bragging about hating Arthur Scargill, though she did beat him like a drum. Moreover, if one is consumed with hate, one often loses control of events. Think of Hillary again. How long people will hate Margaret Thatcher, or, for that matter, Ronald Reagan, I do not know. All I do know is that I have long admired both politicians, and after spending three volumes with Ms. Thatcher, I, too, have come to love her.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author, most recently, of "The Death of Liberalism," published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. To find out more about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at