Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher!

Electoral Victory 1979

I still recall that chant by her opponents, dating from 1971, I think, when Margaret Thatcher was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science in the Heath administration and attempted to cut spending for nonacademic things, including the free milk program for elementary students. Of course, I was too young to be aware of Thatcher at the time, being merely an eighth grader in the isolated Ozarks, and I learned of Thatcher's 'milk-snatching' intentions only later, around 1979, when she became Britain's Prime Minister and I was old enough to have developed some political views and to take an interest in international politics. Having benefitted from free milk as a poor young elementary student, I instinctively disliked Thatcher's conservative politics and found my attention grabbed by the chant.

Now, much older, perhaps slightly wiser, and confronted by the Korean Left's insistence on 'free' lunches for all elementary school students in Seoul, I mutter, "Free lunches? There is no free lunch! Where will the money for these 'free' lunches come from?" As a taxpayer, I know, of course. From me . . . and everybody else, more or less. But in the long run, as society ages in a country whose birthrate is below replacement level, I raise the same question: "Where will all that money come from?" So, I look at Thatcher with different eyes . . .

Newsweek has a fascinating article by Amanda Foreman on this woman whom the Soviets called The Iron Lady: "The New Thatcher Era" (December 26, 2011 - January 2, 2012). Readers can go to the link to read the entire article on how Thatcher predicted the European Union's current problems, so I'll just note an anecdote by Meryl Streep, who plays Thatcher in a new film, for Streep happened to see Thatcher give a speech in 2001, one of the many speeches that she gave after leaving public office:
After she left office, Thatcher's chief occupation became giving speeches, lots and lots of speeches, for lots and lots of money. Streep happened to stumble on one such event while visiting her daughter at Northwestern University: "She delivered the lecture, which was smooth and very controlled. And then she started to take questions. She continued for over an hour and a half, gaining in animation and zeal as she went on. I thought, oh my God, she's absolutely formidable."

In retrospect, I think so, too. She was formidable, great, towering over the men of her era. I didn't appreciate her enough at the time, and I'm saddened to hear of her decline due to the blight of Alzheimers.

I even went out and bought her biography for my daughter, hoping to provide motivation . . .

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