Thursday, April 11, 2013

Women I Have Wanted To Like But Can’t: A Reflection on the Death of Thatcher

Posted by Kim Klein
When I was a child, there was a complete dearth of women in political office.  I remember having a fight on the playground (a way too often occurrence of my elementary school years) when a boy yelled, “Girls can’t be in charge” as I tried to be in charge of our mixed gender softball team.  I yelled back, “Yes, we can.  Girls are in charge of a lot of things.”  “Like what?”  he replied.  Too late I realized I had fallen right into a hole.  “Well” I stuttered, “England, dope.  Have you heard of the QUEEN of England?” 
He was temporarily chastened but came in the next day to tell me that the QUEEN was not in charge of England—the Prime Minister was, and he was A MAN!!!  For years after that, I looked for women in politics.  I felt my heart beat faster when Indira Gandhi came to power in 1966 in India  or when Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969.  Meir died in 1978.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.  Both were called “Iron Ladies” well before the woman who would embody that title came to power.  In 1979, when I was in my late twenties, England elected the first (and, so far, only) woman prime minister—Margaret Thatcher, who died on Tuesday. 
I so wanted to like and admire these women.  The problem is that to know them was to despise much of what they stood for.  Golda Meir was tough, brave, smart, but so blind to the existence of Palestinians that she once said, “There are no Palestinians.”   Indira Gandhi created one of the darkest periods in Indian history, euphemistically called “the Emergency” where she savagely suppressed any dissent and virtually shut down India’s free press. 

And Thatcher?  Many of us who were activists in the 1980’s spent a lot of energy protesting her policies and disagreeing with her politics, along with her good friend and President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.  They always seemed separated at birth in some ways and ironically they both suffered from dementia for many years before finally dying.  Thatcher once called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.  She privatized British mining, causing 20,000 people to lose their jobs almost overnight.  The list of things she did that we decried could fill a book. 
But here is the funny thing about Thatcher as we look back on her.  Today she would be seen as almost a socialist.  Froma Harrop, writing in Nation of Change, notes Thatcher’s reflection in her memoir on the national health service, “I believed that the NHS was a service of which we could genuinely be proud. It delivered a high quality of care — especially when in it came to acute illnesses — and at a reasonably modest unit cost, at least compared with some insurance-based systems."   She goes on to point out that Thatcher greatly admired Friedrich Hayek's "Road to Serfdom," a book conservatives consider a great repudiation of socialism, but that Hayek himself wrote, "there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody ... Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision." For insurable risks, he added, "The case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong."
The list of women in political power is much longer than when I defended the Queen in 1963, and I am happy to say that I do admire many of them:  Barbara Lee, who is my representative, Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren….the list is long.  But I am now much more focused on keeping our country from moving any further to the right.  I do not want, from my perch at the Shady Rest Nursing Home, to watch the funeral of someone like Michele Bachman and have to say, “Today she would practically be a socialist.” 

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