Posted by: ritagone | October 12, 2011

Margaret Thatcher: lesson learned

Margaret Thatcher.  I guess there’s nothing that can disillusion you more than watching a “bio-pic” about an historic leader that you had always admired, only to find that she wasn’t the wonderful lady that you thought she was.  I recently watched a DVD, “The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher,” told in three parts, with three actresses playing Prime Minister Thatcher from her beginnings in politics, through her rise to becoming the first female British Prime Minister and her handling of the Falklands War, to her ultimate fall from power.  Watching it in one day, about five hours worth of entertainment, it gave me quite an insight into this powerful woman of the 20th century.


The disillusionment came when it was apparent that Thatcher was not a perfect person, nor a perfect politician.  Apparently her father wanted a boy and made that fact clear to her from her birth.  So she grew up always feeling at fault, like she had done something wrong, that she was smaller, weaker, a failure.  Not a good way to start life, for sure.  And in the decades in which she maneuvered for political gain, being a woman was not only a handicap; it was an impossibility.  But she steeled herself, stiff upper lip, never fail, never given in, and pressed on, losing one election after another, but not letting anything daunt her.  Even on her honeymoon with husband Denis, her mind never strayed far from politics, and, if these movies were true to real life, Denis always took a back seat to her career and her work.  Even her twins, Mark and Carol, were never top priority in her life, and some of the most poignant scenes in the movie are when she appears to be slightly torn by something her daughter needs from her.  There is a hesitation.  And then she turns away from her child and goes back to work.  Always back to work.


I didn’t like her.  I wish she hadn’t gotten married.  I hurt for her children.  I hurt for her husband.  If she had been a man, I would have hurt for his wife and his children.  They were long-suffering, being literally ignored for so long.  I was not so long-suffering.


The other disillusionment of the movie (again, if it is true to life and accurate) is that she became so brutally overpowering and strident that the men around her became literally terrified of her.  No one could speak truth to her.  As her political support waned, no one had the nerve to tell her this.   She refused to listen to anyone if they were trying to tell her something she didn’t want to hear, especially if it had to do with a differing political opinion.  She was terrified of a life outside of politics, a life with “nothing to do.”  She thought that she could shape Britain to her way of thinking and living, and she was determined to do so.  It’s what happens to politicians and people who have power: they often forget how to use it or to manage it well.  “I don’t mind how much my Ministers talk,” she is quoted as saying, “so long as they do what I say.”


By the time the third segment of the DVD movie was coming to an end, along with her political career, I was both sorry for her and angry with her.  I wanted her to see what everyone around her was seeing so obviously: that her political life was over.


I’m simultaneously reading a book of interviews by Oriana Fallaci, the amazing Italian woman who died five years ago and is known for snagging some of the most evasive historic figure interviews of the 20th and 21st centuries.  This woman gets to the heart of the person she’s interviewing in the most amazing way, taking risks with known dictators and assassins that make you wonder if she didn’t have a death wish.  She asks questions that are designed to get to the heart of the person, provocative, intimate, transparent.  But what to me is more interesting that the transcribed interviews themselves is her written material before the interviews: her glimpses into the lives of the people she is writing about.  She captures so essentially what that person is all about, whether it’s the Dalai Lama and the way he is chosen (an amazing story in itself) or the insanity of Muammar el-Qaddafi, the grandmotherly Golda Meir who – like Margaret Thatcher – was a woman who ruled a nation but with such a different style, that one wishes Fallaci would write more and interview less.  It says something when the writer writing about a powerful person is often more captivating than the powerful person she is writing about!


Powerful people are fascinating.  But sometimes they are extremely disappointing.  At the end, I admired Margaret Thatcher for her drive and her ability to keep on keeping on, in spite of such adverse circumstances and constant defeats.  Those are good qualities.  But the bad qualities overwhelmed the good, and now I know what I didn’t know before, much to my sadness.


Lesson learned: The only powerful person who ever lived who is not disappointing in the least is Jesus Christ.




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