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April 8, 2013 9:25 pm
Margaret Thatcher has long been an idol of American conservatives, and her death on Monday prompted an outbreak of nostalgia for her alliance with President Ronald Reagan, their fight against communism and pursuit of free-market economic policies.
“The greatest peacetime prime minister in British history is dead,” said John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives. “[She] stared down elites, union bosses, and communists to win three consecutive elections, establish conservative principles in western Europe, and bring down the Iron Curtain,” Mr Boehner said.
Across America – regardless of political divisions – Thatcher was being fondly remembered for being the most loyal of pro-American foreign leaders, in many ways the embodiment of the “special relationship” between the UK and the US which has ebbed and flowed since then.
President Barack Obama said: “Many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history – we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.”
But Thatcher was much more than a pro-American British prime minister: she also served to drive conservative ideology with arguably more influence over US domestic policy than any foreign leader since.
Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Margaret Thatcher centre for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank, said many of her supply side economic policies, including confronting the trade unions, helped validate Reagan’s effort to implement similar measures in America.
“It meant that Reagan alone was not proposing these things, that it was bigger than us. When you look at the big political level of encouragement, the example was very powerful,” said Mr Bromund.
After Reagan left office in early 1989, Thatcherism came to be seen as an even more pure form of conservatism than Reaganism in some quarters of the American right, inspiring the Republican renaissance of 1994 under speaker Newt Gingrich.
“She provided conservatives with a template for a much broader ‘go after the state’ agenda than Reagan ever did,” said David Smith, a former Democratic congressional aide who worked for liberal senator Ted Kennedy in the 1980s.
“In the early 1990s, there were a generation of younger Republicans who didn’t look anything like the Republicans of a decade earlier who became very prominent and they were enormously influenced by Thatcher.
“While the relationship with Reagan excited conservative Americans, what really excited the right was Thatcher’s policy at home. That provoked fury on the left.”
Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer, said Thatcher first met Reagan in the spring of 1975 when she was a conservative member of parliament and he was out of office as governor of California.
“He was not thought to have much of a political future, and therefore very few European leaders were interested in meeting him,” said Mr Shirley. “From the start, there was mutual respect that later grew into mutual admiration.”
Her legacy is such that Republicans running for president – even in recent elections – sought out Thatcher’s endorsement to win over the conservative base.
And it was among Tea Partiers across the US that mourning seemed deepest. “As the modern day Tea Party movement has grown and matured, we have realised most of our battles are not new,” said Jenny Beth Martin, National Co-ordinator of Tea Party Patriots, praising Thatcher for defeating socialism at home and abroad. “They are the age-old battles between those who want to wield power over those of us who want to be free.”
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