Margaret Thatcher captured Americans’ hearts and minds in a way few other foreign leaders have done, and much of that was because of the symbiotic relationship she had with President Reagan — a relationship that in many ways mirrored the storied “special” friendship between the two countries.
Mrs. Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87, was a tough-talking maverick who was bullish on the promise of the U.S. as a force on the international stage. Those traits appealed to Americans weary of the 1970s malaise and eager to hear reasons to believe in themselves.
“She had the perfect balance between, on the one hand, being the ‘Iron Lady,’ someone being prepared to call things as she sees it, speaking truth to power,” said Richard Aldous, a professor at Bard College, “but, on the other hand, to be an incredibly fiercely loyal and a good ally.”
The ability to be independent yet indispensable played out particularly in her relationship with Reagan, whose presidency spanned eight of her 12 years as British prime minister.
Mr. Aldous, author of “Reagan and Thatcher,” a 2012 book exploring the relationship between the two world leaders, said their partnership stands decades later as a key factor in the momentous and tumultuous events of the 1980s.
“That relationship was incredibly important. It was just as important as we always thought it was. In many ways it was the relationship that brought down the Soviet Union,” he said.
Mrs. Thatcher was the guest of honor at Reagan’s first White House state dinner in 1981 and a guest at his last state dinner in 1988.
It was Mrs. Thatcher who helped Reagan see Mikhail Gorbachev as a man with whom the West could negotiate, and they shared a vision of bolstering their countries’ defenses in order to deal with the Soviet Union from a position of strength.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said her husband and Mrs. Thatcher helped keep stability and peace during their tenures in office.
“Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates, committed to freedom and resolved to end Communism,” Mrs. Reagan said in a statement.
Their partnership extended beyond mere circumstances of being thrust together.
Reagan and his team actively tried to boost Mrs. Thatcher ahead of the 1987 election that would make history by returning her Conservative Party to a majority in the House of Commons for a third straight time.
A day after her June 10, 1987, victory, Reagan appeared in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to deliver his famous speech asking Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
Still, Mr. Aldous said, Mrs. Thatcher didn’t quite grasp what Reagan was trying to do in that speech.
The two also had other disagreements. Mrs. Thatcher wanted more support from Reagan for her defense of the Falkland Islands, and she was miffed at the American president’s invasion of Grenada in 1983.
But despite — or possibly because of — those disagreements, their partnership was robust, Mr. Aldous said.
American conservatives still idolize Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, even hosts the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
Ted R. Bromund, a senior fellow at the center, said Mrs. Thatcher, more so than other world leaders, struck a chord with Americans because she was an enthusiastic supporter.
“She said she liked Americans and the United States, and she said so repeatedly, publicly, in all sorts of different contexts,” he said. “I really have a difficult time thinking of other world leaders — even ones who were well-inclined to the United States — who were so open about their admiration and respect for the United States.”
Americans repaid her with affection. She has won accolades from Congress, earned Hollywood treatment in a 2011 film that won actress Meryl Streep an Oscar for her portrayal of the prime minister, and became a standard for American female politicians.
The adoration was not matched in her home country.
“Margaret Thatcher was a very divisive figure in the U.K., but not so across the Atlantic, where her popularity has endured decades after she left office,” the BBC said in a story Monday after her death, posing the question of why that was.
Analysts said one reason is that Americans were never immersed in her domestic fights such as the poll tax — a controversy that spawned riots in 1990 and helped end her tenure.
Instead, Mr. Bromund said, Americans saw the broad outlines of a woman who took charge.
“Americans, particularly in the early ’80s, saw someone who was leading a country that had economic problems like the U.S. and was willing to make tough decisions,” he said.
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