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09.02.11

You’re No Thatcher!

Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann recently compared herself to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in what historian Andrew Roberts says is a ludicrous and outrageous attempt to steal her conservative mantle.

“We find ourselves today in search of another Margaret Thatcher,” Michele Bachmann has said in Minneapolis, “to restore our great country to the thriving nation I believe we can be again.” Guess which female American politician Bachmann thinks might be the modern reincarnation of Lady Thatcher, who can save the American Republic? (Hint: it isn’t Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton.)

Although they both admittedly share a commitment to low taxes, strong defense, and free enterprise, that’s where the similarities between Bachmann and Thatcher end, and for the former to liken herself to the latter—which is of course the sole reason to mention her in the speech—is utterly ludicrous. I know Margaret Thatcher, and congresswoman, you’re no Margaret Thatcher.

The Iron Lady got where she did by having an equally ironclad self-control when it came to public statements, a phenomenal grasp of economics, and an ability to bring the majority of people behind her clearly expressed ideas. By complete contrast, Rep. Bachmann is so lacking in these attributes that she must not be allowed to get away with equating her candidacy for the GOP leadership with any of Margaret Thatcher’s achievements.

It is simply impossible to imagine Lady Thatcher suggesting that it would be better for her country’s economy be allowed to default on its international financial obligations sooner than to raise its debt ceiling. No one fought harder against public debt than Thatcher, who turned Britain around from near-bankruptcy to fine surpluses during her 11 years in office, but threatening to destroy a great nation’s financial credibility in world markets overnight, in the way that Bachmann publicly proposed last month, would have earned Margaret Thatcher’s immediate and coruscating scorn.

Thatcher was always tremendously careful about her remarks on social policy, and would never have blithely opined, as Bachmann did in 2004, that the The Lion King was gay propaganda, or, as she did in 2006, say that “hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, believe in Intelligent Design,” let alone compare the situation on the ground in Iraq in 2007 to the Mall of America. An Oxford-educated chemist, Margaret Thatcher would also never have claimed, as Bachmann did in 2009,  “There isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.” Thatcher would have seen through Bachmann’s ideologically driven scientific ignorance and absurd social bigotry in a matter of moments.

Margaret Thatcher’s conservatism—which was always practical, rational, and based on the real concern of ordinary people rather than religiosity and dogma—is a world away from that of Bachmann. For the congresswoman to attempt to hijack the noble, rationalist legacy of Britain’s greatest 20th-century peacetime premier for her own campaign is regurgitatively infuriating.

It was Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan whose policies won the Cold War and brought about the end of that monstrous blight on history, the Soviet Union. Such is Michele Bachmann’s understanding of international affairs that on Aug. 18 this year she stated that Americans today “see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward.” Of course every politician can misspeak—indeed Reagan himself regularly did—but the USSR broke up two decades ago, and one can be certain that Margaret Thatcher would have chosen her words with forensic care on a subject as important as this.

For the congresswoman to attempt to hijack the noble, rationalist legacy of Britain’s greatest 20th-century peacetime premier for her own campaign is regurgitatively infuriating.

The arrogance of ignorance is a terrifying thing in a politician, and Bachmann’s claim that she was at “the point of the spear” in the opposition to the Democrats in Congress, when she was just one of many hard-working Republicans there, was yet another classic example of a temperament that is worlds away from Margaret Thatcher's. She really did represent the point of the spear, indeed often the whole spear itself, yet never boasted so brassily about it.

These periods 14 months ahead of elections often throw up ludicrous no-hoper candidates who are dumped as soon as the electorate takes a closer look. It’s a cruel process winnowing out the dopey-hopefuls, but a vital one. The sooner the withering eye of critical analysis eviscerates the Margaret Thatcher–lite the better it will be for the GOP, the United States and probably, ultimately, also for poor Bachmann herself.