Margaret ThatcherPosted: April 9, 2013
To the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe only the truth. – Voltaire
That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. – Glenn Greenwald
She was hard-nosed and thick-skinned. She had a black-and-white worldview and refused to back down on anything. She ushered in an era of greed that kicked the weak out onto the streets, and let the rich become filthy rich. She comforted the comfortable, and afflicted the afflicted. She engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world.
She deregulated British banks and the stock exchange. She privatized government-run industries where free-market competition rules didn’t apply, such as rail and energy, putting profits before safety. She eliminated jobs and weakened unions (steelworkers, printers, shipbuilders, and miners). Unemployment shot up, but she refused to change her policies because of it. And she helped turn public sentiment against union members, often with violent results.
She is credited with the “right to buy” program, where many public housing (“council house”) tenants were able to buy their homes for a moderate amount of money. However, she blocked additional public housing and “pulled up the ladder” to keep others from becoming homeowners as well. And eventually this housing bubble burst like it did later in the US, leaving millions saddled with debt they previously could have repaid.
She made history as the first woman Prime Minister but went on to use her power to work against the most vulnerable, including women and their children. She drastically cut food and nutrition programs in schools. She became known as “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher.”
She brought in Section 28, a law specifically targeting and discriminating against the GLBT community (since repealed).
She instituted a “head tax” that replaced local property taxes. Rather than adjusting property tax rates according to home values, the tax charged each household a flat rate for each person living there. A duke paid the same as his dustman. A millionaire family of three paid less than a tenement family of four. And as noted above, she blocked tenement families from moving up and out.
She infuriated Scotland by imposing the head tax there a year before the rest of the UK. She did more than just about anyone else to spur Scotland’s current move toward independence.
She didn’t give in to hunger strikers in Belfast, and they died. This boosted anti-British feeling, caused condemnation from other countries, and prompted the IRA to become more entrenched in electoral politics.
In the Falklands War, she personally ordered the controversial sinking of an Argentinian warship with the loss of many lives. While it was great for the military, the ship was outside the legal territory for attack.
She blocked economic sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid government. She supported Pinochet’s regime in Chile, which tortured and murdered thousands. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War, but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq.
She marginalized and put down her own Cabinet in favor of outside advisers. Eventually her own party voted her out in favor of John Major.
Near the end of her term she increased national government centralization and reduced local government power. After stepping down as Prime Minister, she continued to serve the interest of the elites.
Ironically, in her later years the British people paid her bills for treatment, care, housing, and so much else, when it is absolutely undeniable that she would have denied each and every one of them the same.
Perhaps I’m unfairly shaming the departed Baroness. But shaming doesn’t just affect the person shamed: it lets people in similar positions of power understand what resentment can fester against them, even over generations.
Shame on anybody who takes milk away from hungry children. Shame on anybody who uses divisive innuendo, so they can silence people who stand against them. Shame on anybody who sends people to war, to line the pockets of the rich.
I judge her life, the effects of which still stand. That is fair. We must judge these kinds of people or we will be ruled by them. And if I am going to feel sorry for anyone, I think I will feel sorry for the hundreds of thousands of people who have harder lives because of her actions. It is not respectful of her victims to forget what they had to endure because of her.
May her spirit go forth and come to an understanding of what she did.
(Fueled in part by comments at Democratic Underground yesterday and today.)