Lessons From the Iron Lady

The tasteless demonstrations celebrating her passing confirm how right she was.

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Over in Great Britain they are preparing to say a final farewell to one of that nation's greatest leaders. Lady Margaret Thatcher, who as prime minster saved the United Kingdom from economic collapse and won three national elections between 1979 and 1990, died last week of a stroke at the age of 87.

The tributes paid to her memory and accomplishments have largely befitted her status as the most important woman on the British political scene since Queen Victoria. Along with Sir Winston Churchill, Lady Thatcher was one of the most important prime ministers of the 20th century, maybe even longer. There are those, however, who have not been so gracious in their praise or graceful in their actions.

As the media on both sides of the Atlantic has reported, there have been those who have been treating her passing as an occasion for celebration. From champagne parties in the streets of London to a social media driven effort to propel the song "Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead" from 1939's The Wizard of OZ to the top of the U.K. pop charts, the anarchists and anti-capitalist malcontents who make up the contemporary British left are distastefully dancing on her grave.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the European debt crisis.]

As outrageous, as objectionable as that might be to her family, her friends, her many admirers, and those around the globe who seek to keep the Thatcherite flame burning brightly well into the 21st century one suspects the lady herself might have been amused.

Those close to her still speak of the satisfaction with which she received criticism directed at her personally, and not just because she had a thick skin – as one must when climbing to the top of what Disraeli called "the greasy pole." To Lady Thatcher, the personal attacks directed at her by her opponents only served to reinforce her belief that, on policy grounds, she was right.

"I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding," she once said, "Because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left." What a marvelously cheerful expression of self-confidence, demonstrating that the approbation of ones enemies is often as important in the political arena as the plaudits of one's friends.

[See Photos: The Life of Margaret Thatcher: 1925-2013]

It's an important lesson as well for American politicians. The U.S. arena is somewhat more temperate than Britain's, yet this nation's elected officials and candidates often display an embarrassingly thin skin.

Part of this is affectation. Feigned moral outrage – like that exhibited by President Barack Obama during his second debate with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over the issue of playing politics with national security – can be a powerful tool in campaigning, especially when the chattering classes are willing to replicate the charge that a particular comment or behavior is offensive.

Recall how much mileage former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton got during her first senate bid over the idea that GOP Rep. Rick Lazio had crossed into her personal space at one point during a debate. By the time the press and the spin masters were done, what Lazio had done was transformed from a few steps in her general direction into a full-blown assault, almost a mugging.

American political leaders have a lot to learn from Lady Thatcher, should they choose to. Proud of her dedication to principles, often referring to herself as a conviction politician rather than a consensus politician, she set a new standard for all who have followed her. The tasteless demonstrations celebrating her passing confirm that she was not only right but that the revolutions she produced in the British political and economic system are – much to the chagrin of the left – permanent. Which, come to think of it, might be an epitaph that she would appreciate very, very much.

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