So, in response to the fact that every news outlet and politically-minded Twitterfeed will cover absolutely nothing else today, let’s talk about Margaret Thatcher, mmkay?
For those of you who aren’t aware, she’s this lady:
Her hair is super awesome, am I right? I feel like it defies the laws of physics. Like, how do you even make hair do that? I’m at a loss. Bravo, Margaret Thatcher’s hair, bravo.
Anyway! Thatcher wasn’t just famous for having gravity-defying hair. She was mostly known for being the first, and only, lady Prime Minister of Great Britain. Pretty awesome. President Obama put it best, I think, when he stated this morning that she taught “our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.”
She was certainly a ceiling shatterer. Can’t argue with that.
But, sadly, busting balls and taking names isn’t all that’s required to be a Femmlicious politician.
What’s a Femmlicious politician, you say?
It means being a feministy politician, who rules with empathy, who values human beings over markets, who works for increased levels of individual choice, who values personal liberties and freedoms, who prioritizes the wellbeing of the most marginalized, who fights to make this world a more just and accepting place that all of us can safely live in (and not just the rich, straight, white folks).
Pretty rad, right? And with all the syrupy tributes Margaret Thatcher’s death has been inspiring, you’d think she was one of them. Because only super Femmlicious politicians are loved so much as to merit personal condolences from the Queen of England herself, right?
Wrong. So very, very wrong.
Folks, Margaret Thatcher was one of the least Femmlicious politicians ever. EVER. Like, in all of modern history.
I mean, her nickname was the Iron Lady. Methinks it wasn’t just a reference to how much of a badass she was–it was also, probably, a reference to the iron heart she must have had in order to continue sleeping at night after she tore Great Britain’s (and the world’s) social economy apart.
You see, back when Thatcher was elected in 1979, the global economy didn’t look anything like it does today. At the time, the United States and Western Europe were operating on a Keynesian economic model called embedded liberalism.
That’s just a fancy word for a system whose primary goals were full employment, economic growth, avoiding another crazy World War or Great Depression, and basically maintaining the wellbeing of citizens.
Pretty sweet! It was a big success for awhile, but then the 1970s happened, and it all started to fall apart. Major bummer.
By the time Thatcher was elected in 1979, she needed to rescue Great Britain from the depths of stagflation. So, she implemented a new economic model that was in favor of institutionalizing individualism, private property, and personal responsibility. She “attacked all forms of social solidarity that hindered competitive flexibility,” dismantled the welfare state, privatized public enterprises, reduced taxes, and focused on creating a favorable business climate for foreign investors.
Basically, she defunded the social safety net as much as possible–leaving the poor and the marginalized out in the cold. She broke unions, and forgot about protecting the welfare of the people or maintaining full employment. She sent the unemployment rate through the roof, and created an uber-competitive, capitalist society in which corporations were waaaayyyyy more important than any piddly little person. She made the rich richer and the poor poorer.
She absolutely FUCKED a ton of people.
But wait! It gets worse! Back in the U.S., incumbent President Ronald Reagan was super pumped about Thatcher’s actions. He thought they were just what the doctor ordered, and backed their implementation here in the United States.
Enter, the Reagan Revolution, which emptied factories, broke unions, sent unemployment skyrocketing, dismantled the social safety net, and anointed Wall Street financiers kings of the world.
Again, tons of people–FUCKED.
OK, so if all this shit is true, then why are Thatcher and Reagan so deeply admired by so many political wonks? Tea Partiers–just to name a single example–admire these two icons with a zeal usually only reserved for religion.
There are a whole bunch of reasons. For one, they were both insanely charismatic leaders. It’s hard not to get all starry-eyed and fired up when you’re in that kind of presence. On the flip side, Joseph Stalin was also described as a charismatic leader. You know, that guy who killed more people than Hitler?
Another reason that Reagan and Thatcher are so fondly remembered is that they were both BOSS at getting things done. Don’t like the economy? Revolutionize it. Done. If President Obama was so skilled at getting big things accomplished, we would have had universal health care a long ass time ago.
Not to mention, they were both pretty major victors for their respective parties. Both Reagan and Thatcher were conservatives that ascended in the wake of a relatively long, Left(ish)-wing era. For their supporters, they were a breath of fresh air, not to mention hugely successful at reversing most of the stuff their opponents had managed to accomplish over the previous 30 years.
But most importantly, Thatcher and Reagan successfully mobilized a political agenda that conservatives had been advocating for decades. Fueled by feelings of racial resentment and status anxiety, conservative folk were (and still are) all about preserving their own highly exclusive privilege at the expense of everyone else.
So when unions were busted so that factory owners could boost their profit margins, that was totally cool with the conservatives. When tax dollars were directed away from the welfare state, so that the rich could get richer, while poor people of color wound up poorer, unemployed, hungry, and homeless, that was cool with the conservatives too.
Conservatism is all about political narcissism–putting the blinders on, so to speak. Generally, Right-wingers don’t support policies that will send people into poverty or homelessness simply because they’re mean. They do it because they have an uncanny inability to see or understand situations that are inherently different from their own. They figure, “If I can get a job, so can you! And if not, that’s just your own damn fault.”
Conservatism conflates structural injustice, institutionalized inequality, with personal failings.
And that’s super convenient for someone like Margaret Thatcher–an upper-middle class, straight, white, feminine-presenting woman–whose political legacy is like the gift that just keeps on giving. She destroyed the livelihoods of thousands in her day, and 30 years later, her policies are still wreaking havoc. But for privileged people like herself, shit just keeps getting better.
Instead, let’s remember her for who she was. An extremely effective politician, who proved that a woman can be far more powerful and ruthless than any man.
And also, a conservative powerhouse who warmongered, threw countless of people into hardship and poverty, corrupted the global economy, and felt no remorse.
Let me be the first to express my condolences to her family, who are suffering now because of her loss–and also to the millions of people who have suffered under her legacy for decades.
What do you all think about the Iron Lady?
 Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. 22-3.