Charles Krauthammer Reflects On The Passing Of Margaret Thatcher
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HH: I had hoped to talk to my next guest, Charles Krauthammer, today about the Nationals and how he will be as despondent as he was at the end of this season as he was last year, but it is both fortuitous and sad, Charles, that you’re here on the day that Margaret Thatcher passes. I’m glad to be able, though, to ask you what was your thought this morning when you heard the news?
CK: Well, she was one of those rare historical figures that you really don’t get to see. I mean, the younger generation has no understanding of what it was like to live when communism was the reigning ideology in the world. Today, it seems so quaint and bizarre. But for those of us who lived through it and thought that we would never live to see the end of the Soviet Union, that we’d always be living under the cloud, that we would always be in tension, always in fear of a miscalculation or an imbalance of power. Thatcher and Reagan, and a couple of others including the Pope, John Paul II, brought it down. Ended it. Historically. I mean, these, this is an event of Biblical magnitude, and she was extremely important in that. She didn’t only revolutionize her own country, she saved Britain from socialism. She did that single handedly. But she also helped to end and to bury the whole communist idea, and that was done with just a handful of others. That kind of epitaph, those two lines on your tombstone, are extremely unusual. There aren’t, there weren’t a dozen people in the world of whom you can say that.
HH: You know, Charles, next hour I’m going to be joined by John Burns from London, the New York Times bureau chief, to talk about the impact of her on the United Kingdom. But she had an amazing impact on America, too. I was on the staff of Richard Nixon in exile in San Clemente when she came to power, and we were writing a book called The Real War, and nobody really thought you could do anything other than contain the Soviet Union. But she actually believed in turning it upside down.
CK: She and Reagan. And think of how unusual they were. On domestic issues, they both stood in opposition to decades of socialism in Britain and New Deal/Great Society liberalism in America. They stood almost alone shouting against the wind, and everybody thought that couldn’t be changed. And they changed it. They changed it to the extent that in America, the tradition of Reaganism was carried on by the Democrats when they came to power in the 90s. And President Clinton announced the era of big government is over, in the same way Thatcher was institutionalized. Her revolution by Blair, when he became leader of the new Labour, they didn’t roll back Thatcherism. They institutionalized it. And on the foreign scene, they both were willing to say we’re not going to live accepting the premise that the Soviet Union is here to stay, the Soviet Union can enter, take over, threaten countries at will. They said no, and they were able to demonstrate that they would face the Soviet Union down, and they did.
HH: Charles, let me play for you a clip of Lady Thatcher addressing the House of Commons as the Falklands campaign got underway, cut number six:
MT: Mr. Speaker, sir, the House meets this Saturday to respond to a situation of great gravity. We are here because for the first time for many years, British sovereign territory has been invaded by a foreign power. After several days of rising tension in our relations with Argentina, that country’s armed forces attacked the Falkland Islands yesterday and established military control of the islands. And Mr. Speaker, yesterday was a day of rumor and counter-rumor. Throughout the day, we had no communication from the government of the Falklands. Indeed, the last message we received was at 21:55 hours on Thursday night the 1st of April. By late afternoon yesterday, it became clear that an Argentine invasion had taken place, and that the lawful British government of the islands had been usurped. Mr. Speaker, I’m sure that the whole House will join me in condemning totally this unprovoked aggression by the government of Argentina against British territory.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, at this point, she goes on to make clear she will not allow that to stand, and I believe sets a tone that will run through the entire course of her partnership with Ronald Reagan vis-à-vis totalitarians and authoritarians alike.
CK: Yeah. The amazing part of that is she basically declared on that day, the day after, that she was going to reverse this. The Brits didn’t have any idea how they would do that. They weren’t prepared. She scrambled a flotilla from whatever happened to be afloat at the time. But what she understood, she knew that it would take almost a month for the ships to arrive. And in that time, she’d figure out, her commanders would figure out how to do this. So she went into it with utter steel and determination, not knowing how it would get done. But that kind of will and also clarinos in knowing that she had a cushion that wouldn’t look like weakness, because it simply, ships go slowly. She knew she’d prevail in the end. And that, it changed public opinion on her in Britain dramatically, and it gave her the stature to go ahead and to do the anti-socialist revolution, and then to join with Reagan on her very strict anti-communism.
HH: I will ask John Burns next hour, Charles, whether or not the Conservatives made a mistake in toppling her with an inter-party coup. Looking back and hindsight is 20/20, what do you think?
CK: Well, in hindsight, you could say yes. But on the other hand, 11 ½ years is a historic run. It’s the longest uninterrupted in the 20th Century. Even here, you know, our only longer serving president was Roosevelt. And we abolished that with the amendment that limited a president to two terms. There is something. She was becoming somewhat imperious. There was a need for a sort of refreshment. But looking some way at the parallels, she then was, her successor was John Major, who had a single term. Reagan had a successor in Bush, also one term. But again, her legacy lived. When you have a rotation of power, the other guys come in and they accept your premises. That was the ultimate success. So whether she was in power or not didn’t really matter. She had established the premise of a new kind of Britain and respected the market, that would not allow the unions to run the country against the rule of law, and that was not sclerotic with all of these industries nationalized by labor, that she denationalized and privatized. So she created the Britain that we know today. And whether she was in government for 11 ½ years or 12 or 13, I don’t think would have made any difference historically.
HH: Now Charles Krauthammer, a lot of people say that the United States has gone far down the road towards a government, the size of which cannot be reversed or pared back. Was Thatcher’s challenge greater in ’78-’78 than anyone attempting to reverse America’s expansion of government is now?
CK: That’s a very interesting proposition. I say yes and no. It’s harder in America, because in a presidential system, you don’t have control of the apparatus of government, the complete control that you have in Parliament. You win an election in Britain or Canada, you have essential a four year dictatorship where you can do anything you want. You announce a budget, and you pass it a week later. Here, it doesn’t happen that way. So just the mechanics of a revolution are a lot harder, and in fact, Reagan had a harder time cutting government than anybody remembers, because that’s extremely hard to do. He was able to cut taxes and deregulate. Now on the other hand, Britain was far more ideologically left than America ever was. So in a sense, she was bringing her country from a far, way out there ideology that had sort of penetrated and been accepted even by the Tories. So her job, ideologically, intellectually, sort of spiritually, if you like, was a lot harder. But she had the mechanics and the machinery of a parliamentary system to essentially do whatever she wanted.
HH: Oh, that’s interesting.
CK: And she did against the grain.
HH: One more quick clip, cut number three, talking about the European Union, here’s Margaret Thatcher.
MT: Yes, the commission does want to increase its powers. Yes, it is a non-elected body, and I do not want the commission to increase its powers against this House. So of course we are differing. Of course the chairman or the president of the commission, Mr. Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the community. He wanted the commission to be the executive, and he wanted the council of ministers to be the senate. No, no, no.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, she was prescient, wasn’t she, in a minute left, that she did not want any part of the European Union for Great Britain.
CK: Well, I mean, they are in the EU, but she stayed out of the Euro.
CK: …and was savagely attacked for that, and obviously she was right as she was on a dozen other items. And that’s what, you know, that’s what history respects and honors, those who went against the grain and were right time and again. She, and you could say Churchill in that 20th Century.
HH: Charles, thank you so much for joining us. Another time, we’ll talk about the Nationals baseball and the dream that never dies in Washington, D.C.
End of interview.