Margaret Thatcher: A Bold, Decisive Leader

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says that the former British prime minister lived by her own definition of what it meant to be a woman, and that has to be called feminism -- whether or not she would have liked it. 

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Margaret Thatcher (WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says that Thatcher lived by her own definition of what it meant to be a woman, and that has to be called feminism -- whether or not she would have liked it.

Thatcher was a towering but polarizing figure. Many aspects of her legacy -- the transformation of Britain into a postindustrial society -- will long be debated. But one of her greatest contributions is beyond dispute: She showed that a woman could be a bold, decisive, swashbuckling leader on the grandest of stages.

Thatcher never thought of herself as a feminist -- she once reportedly told an aide that feminism was "poison" -- and probably would be aghast at being considered an icon of the women's movement. She didn't believe in movements that coursed through society. "There is no such thing as society," she said. "There are individual men and women, and there are families" ...

She led Conservatives to an election victory and became prime minister in 1979. She recognized that her party, which was identified with the landed gentry, could succeed only if it managed to appeal to middle-class voters. In effect, she redrew the lines of British society -- despite professing not to believe in society, she did speak of it occasionally -- by painting the working class, and especially the labor unions, as an impediment to middle-class prosperity ...

She was shrewd and ruthless. In 1981, coal miners threatened a crippling strike. She backed down, knowing this was not a fight she could win -- yet. Her government began stockpiling coal and preparing for another confrontation, which came in 1984 when the National Coal Board announced plans to shut down 20 unproductive, money-losing mines.

When the miners responded by going on strike, she portrayed them as "Marxists” who wanted "to defy the law of the land in order to defy the laws of economics." After a year punctuated by violent clashes between strikers and police, the union crumbled.

Read Eugene Robinson's entire piece at the Washington Post.

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