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Mona Charen: Thatcher was great leader but feminists loathed her

This is 1969 file phoshowing Margaret Thatcher. Ex-spokesman Tim Bell says thformer British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died. She

This is a 1969 file photo showing Margaret Thatcher. Ex-spokesman Tim Bell says that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died. She was 87. Bell said the woman known to friends and foes as "the Iron Lady" passed away Monday morning, Aprilo 8, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:28AM

President Barack Obama’s statement honoring Margaret Thatcher was an example of the chameleon-like nature of liberalism. Rewriting history is a liberal specialty. Just as the anti-Cold War liberals were miraculously transformed into cold warriors after the war had been won, yesterday’s anti-Thatcherites are today morphing into something else.

The president’s statement praises Thatcher as one the “great champions of freedom and liberty” and observes “she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.”

So today we all celebrate Margaret Thatcher as a feminist icon? This is revisionism of a high order.

Of course, she ought to have been a feminist heroine. Thatcher was one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century and the greatest female leader of modern times. A woman of rare brilliance, grit, accomplishment and determination, she who won three national elections, helped to dismantle the Soviet empire and transformed her nation and the world for the better.

But feminists loathed her. During her first campaign for national office in 1979, the more polite nose holders said, “We want women’s rights, not a right-wing woman.” The less subtle said, “Ditch the B----.”

Ah, yes the tolerant feminists! Thatcher understood them well enough, remarking, “I owe nothing to women’s lib.” Young women, we were told, required female role models. Thatcher’s hero was Winston Churchill.

Eschewing the usual female ghettoes of health, education and welfare policy, Thatcher the politician focused on economics and international affairs.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, who rode to power on her husband’s coattails, or world leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, whose powerful fathers blazed the trail, Thatcher was completely self-made. She never once complained, as Clinton has more than once, that she was unfairly treated because she was a woman. Many a male MP tangled with her to his cost. She never asked for a vote in the name of women’s empowerment. She had no use for such trivialities. She had a country to save.

The magnitude of Thatcher’s accomplishments as prime minister cannot be understood without reference to the depths into which Britain had fallen by 1979. Successive governments had delivered an economy close to collapse. During the “winter of discontent” in 1978 to 79, strikes by public employees had crippled public services. Pickets blocked the entrances to hospitals. Railway workers and truck drivers disrupted transportation. Trash accumulated on the streets as sanitation workers walked off the job. Bodies accumulated in morgues as gravediggers joined the strikes.

Thatcher’s victory ushered in necessary free market reforms. As in the U.S. under Reagan, Britain endured a tough recession as Thatcher wrestled inflation down. But the economy then rebounded and grew dramatically. She privatized state-owned industries, cut taxes on investments, radically reduced the power of trade unions and reduced government spending. “The trouble with socialism,” she said, “is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

Britain’s economy grew, confidence was restored and the Labour Party was forced to abandon its soft Marxism.

Contra President Obama, perhaps the least interesting fact about Margaret Thatcher is that she was a woman. Far more important were her dedication to liberty (economic as well as political), her fierce opposition to tyranny of all sorts.

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