Friday, October 23, 2009

Embarking Upon The Thatcher Memoirs

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”—The Baroness Thatcher

I have embarked upon reading Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs, which shall take several months, as the memoirs involve thousands upon thousands of pages, in three volumes.

I decided to read the volumes in chronological order. Consequently, I have begun with “The Path To Power”, although most persons choose to begin with “The Downing Street Years”.

It should be a luxurious reading experience, a welcome antidote to living in a period of pygmy politicians and leadership more suited to banana republics than world powers.

Thatcher’s memoirs are much the most important since Churchill’s. Everyone that has studied them has raved.

They are also the best-selling memoirs since Churchill’s, worldwide, in numerous languages, and have enjoyed a very durable shelf life (it is seldom that politician memoirs remain in print for any period).

My father read the volumes as they were first published. He said at the time that the memoirs were fifty times better than he had expected, the first memoirs since Churchill’s written at the most exalted level—and written not to settle scores.

Thatcher’s memoirs are considered to represent a template of the leader’s art, and will be read for the next thousand years, in admiration and awe. According to a highly-regarded history professor I know, they are destined, over time, to supplant Machiavelli as primary source of the politician’s craft.

It is apparent, from the first few chapters, that the memoirs have been painstakingly assembled. Thatcher is a fine, even elegant writer, and she possesses more than a little eloquence.

It is also apparent, from the first few chapters, that Thatcher possesses a mind of startling clarity.

While Thatcher’s eloquence does not quite match Churchill’s, Thatcher’s clarity of thought exceeds that of the great lion that preceded her.

Upon reflection, this should not be surprising. Thatcher accomplished at least as much as her great predecessor.

Churchill is remembered today as a wartime leader. He was instrumental in winning a great conflagration, but he did so by reacting to international events, not by shaping them according to his own initiative. Churchill’s domestic accomplishments were mostly non-existent.

Thatcher is remembered as a peacetime leader who completely transformed her nation’s economy and ethos—and who did so NOT in response to external events but entirely upon her own initiative. Further, Thatcher is remembered as a leader of vast foreign policy accomplishment, including a seminal role in winning a lengthy Cold War.

As such, Thatcher enjoys two trumps over Churchill.

There is another quality Thatcher shared with Churchill: both leaders were wont to drive their fellow politicians mad.

In a career lasting four decades, Thatcher was renowned for driving her opposition into a tizzy.

Her opponents in the Labour Party were always in a tizzy. Her opponents in the Liberal Party were always in a tizzy. Even opponents within her own Conservative Party were always in a tizzy.

Leaders on the continent were generally in a tizzy, too—and, amazingly, they were in a tizzy from the time of her first cabinet post, years before she became leader first of her party and then of her nation. Europeans must have foreseen, earlier than the British themselves, that Thatcher would one day become Prime Minister—and cause them all sorts of grief.

She was a formidable woman.

No one ever took on Thatcher face-to-face and emerged the winner. She could only be attacked from behind, under cover of darkness.

“Margaret Thatcher always gave me headaches.”—Helmut Kohl in his “Memoirs: 1982-1990”

“What does she want, this housewife? My [****] on a tray?”—Jacques Chirac, during the February 1988 Brussels Summit

Thatcher was an extraordinary woman. She was sui generis.

Not surprisingly, Thatcher was a great political and personal friend of the other great leader of her era, Ronald Reagan.

In less than a decade, the two leaders shaped a comprehensive reorientation of the world’s politics and economies. A revolution in all but name, it was an achievement on the most extravagant scale, the magnitude of which is generally accomplished only through warfare.

Thatcher and Reagan were to remain close until Reagan’s mind was lost to dementia a full decade before his body gave out and he was called home at last.

I remember vividly Thatcher’s appearance at Reagan’s 2004 funeral.

Her eulogy, the best of the eulogies that day, began: “We have lost a great President, a great American, and a great man—and I have lost a dear friend.”

I recall how fragile Thatcher looked at the end of what, for her, surely had been a very long and very tiring day. After The State Funeral at The National Cathedral, Thatcher, along with Reagan family members and a handful of Reagan intimates, made the long journey from Washington to California in order to lay Reagan to rest, at sunset, on a spot overlooking The Pacific Ocean.

Though visibly frail, The Iron Lady still displayed the dignity and composure for which she had been greatly admired during her prime.

That day, as always, she wore a great hat.


  1. Ack. Somehow I've missed out on Thatcher's memoir! It is definitely going on my 'to read' list now, thanks to you. :o) My mom stopped just short of worshiping her, I think... It helped that she was a scientist before getting into politics (mom is an MD with great affinity to smart women).

    Cheerio from sunny California! :o)

  2. For what it's worth, Smorg, my father says I am making a mistake in beginning the memoirs with "The Path To Power".

    He says that "The Downing Street Years" should be read first, followed by "The Path To Power" and ending with "Statecraft".