Margaret Thatcher’s dramatic life has the makings of a great movie. The Iron Lady isn’t it. Somewhere between a third and half of the movie ignores her career and portrays her as a hallucinating old woman trying to justify herself to her dead husband. It’s insulting to a still living woman and a way for director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan to sneak in a shockingly anti-feminist critique of Thatcher. It’s unforgivable that they twisted events, as Virginia Postrel observed:
We see Thatcher giving her teenage daughter, Carol, a driving lesson. They have a wild time on the road. Thatcher grabs the steering wheel, forcing the car to swerve right (get it?) to avoid an oncoming driver who is dangerously straddling the center line. Mother and daughter come into the house laughing. But this happy bonding quickly breaks down when Margaret announces her intention to run for Conservative Party leader.“I thought I was having a driving lesson, but it was all about my mother!” yells Carol, storming out of the room.
Denis, still alive in this flashback, then reminds his wife that he’s told her that “business is a bit rocky and the doctor says I need a rest.” Insensitive to his problems, she prattles on about running for party leader. “You’re insufferable, Margaret,” he says. “You know that?”
When she responds with talk of duty and public service, he snaps, “Don’t call it duty! It’s ambition that’s got you this far — ambition! The rest of us — me, the children, we can all go to hell! Don’t worry about me,” he concludes, with a mixture of resignation and sarcasm, “I’ll be fine.”
Recalling the scene, the phantom Denis asks how many days it took her to realize he’d gone to South Africa. “When did I lose track of everyone?” she muses.
And here comes the moral: “You were too busy climbing the greasy pole.”
No wonder she wound up lonely and demented. The Iron Lady was just out for herself, a self-centered rat who missed the important things in life. At least that’s what a viewer who knew only the movie might suppose.
This crucial scene is worse than fabricated. It twists real events to make its moralistic point.
In the real world, Denis Thatcher, who was something of a workaholic himself, did in fact take a sabbatical in South Africa and Switzerland — in 1964, a full decade before Margaret ran for party leader and for reasons that had little to do with his wife. On his return, he sold the family business to a larger company.
And Margaret Thatcher did indeed give her daughter driving lessons. After a professional instructor terrified Carol with a rush-hour trip through London’s busy Sloane Square, Margaret persuaded her daughter not to give up. “Thanks to her,” Carol Thatcher writes in her 2008 memoir “A Swim-on Part in the Goldfish Bowl,” “I eventually passed my test.” That, too, happened years before Thatcher ran for party leader. Her children, born in 1953, were adults during Thatcher’s years as head of the Conservative Party. Carol was in fact taking her law exams as the Tories were casting their party-leader votes — a nice bit of parallel tension that the movie skips.
Denis Thatcher was long his wife’s greatest cheerleader. As a young and nervous candidate, Mrs. Thatcher was once paralyzed on the stump until Denis started his friends cheering for her. For the rest of her career, Denis was always leading the cheering section (even at an American Enterprise Institute event years after she left active politics). Denis was the rare man who disproved Katherine Anne Porter’s assessment of men and marriage:
I know that when a woman loves a man, she builds him up and supports him. I never knew a man who loved a woman enough for this. He cannot help it, it is his deepest instinct to destroy, quite often subtly, insidiously, but constantly and endlessly, her very center of her being, her confidence in herself as a woman.
Lloyd and Morgan have shoehorned poor Denis Thatcher into this worldview that was wildly not his own. Disgraceful.
Here are some things that really should have been in the movie:
Thatcher was a ferocious enemy of the Soviet Union, to the point where Pravda gave her the nickname “The Iron Lady.” Thatcher appropriated the intended smear and made it stick: it’s the title of the film. Why did they leave this out?
Note that the above trailer closes with a scene that didn’t actually make the movie: Thatcher asking the men at a state dinner, “Gentleman, shall we join the ladies?” Particularly given the early scenes where young Margaret Roberts had to leave the room while the men talked, this is the sort of elementary contrast that needs to be in a film. Thatcher actually did say this, so leaving it out is yet another sign of incompetent film making.
We see her take questions in Parliament, but only once as a junior minister and never as Prime Minister. She was consistently better prepared and regularly smashed the leader of the opposition, Neil Kinnock. In the above clip, we see the actual Thatcher’s last time at Prime Minister’s questions. She had already been knifed in the back by her own party, and even here, she can roll with raucous and overcome her opposition. Prime Minister’s questions is one of the places where Thatcher shined: she loved it and excelled at it. When she was challenged abroad by a panel of Soviet politicians, she demonstrated that she knew more about the Soviet economy than they did. It would have been a wonderful contrast to see her as Prime Minister dominating where she had once floundered, and the film makers simply gloss over it.
Thatcher is consistently portrayed as a headstrong and near reckless leader. But the real woman was often shrewd and cautious and perfectly willing to concede fights that she was not yet able to win. We never see Arthur Scargill, the Stalinist leader of the mining unions, but he was one of her chief antagonists. Shortly after she she became Prime Minister, he called a general strike and Thatcher more or less gave him everything he wanted because the government was in no position to break the strike. She carefully laid down stockpiles of coal—a three years supply of it!—so when he started another general strike later, she was able to break the miner’s union (The movie Billy Elliot uses this conflict as a backdrop). Thatcher took a long view, made a strategy, and overcame the most powerful man in Britain who wasn’t an MP.
As a young woman, Thatcher was a research chemist who actually patented methods for preserving ice cream. We see her campaigning amongst ice cream workers, but the film makers missed an opportunity to show a woman coming full circle.
The film makers show the IRA bombing of the conservative convention at Brighton, but they only show Thatcher’s initial and horrified reaction. Far more important, the next day she carried on with the speech she had been editing, which she delivered without changes. Thatcher made the point that we carry on despite terror. This was again lost.
The above are major points. Here are some minor things that would have been nice:
Geoffrey Howe is seriously underdeveloped as a character. He was sometimes right, particularly in his Thatcher’s early days as her Chancellor of the Exchequer, and sometimes wrong, particularly on the single currency, and Thatcher did mistreat him, but we’re left with the impression that he’s just a squish, which he wasn’t. Given that his resignation eventually led to Thatcher’s own downfall, the audience needed some more development of his character. And by cutting away from the leadership race too soon, they leave the impression that the Tory Wet challenger Michael Heseltine won it, when it was actually won by John Major, another Tory Dry.
Other key members of Thatcher’s cabinet in particular and British politics in general aren’t developed. Norman Tebbit, whose wife was crippled by the Brighton bombing, is nowhere to be seen, but he would have been excellent and colorful addition. Ted Heath needed to be built up more so we can see him as an antagonist better. Enoch Powell, her most formidable critic on the right (just as Barry Goldwater paved the way for Ronald Reagan, so did Powell cut the trail for Thatcher) should have had some lines—even if only his cutting remark about her principles, “A pity she doesn’t understand them!” Neil Kinnock, leader of the opposition, also needed some screen time.
And how could the film makers have left out Willie Whitelaw? He was Heath’s deputy and then Thatcher’s, a Tory Wet who nevertheless backed Thatcher’s Tory Drys. He was so loyal and useful to her that she once exclaimed “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie!” It would have been a much needed bit of comic relief in a film that took itself far too seriously. Further, his departure to the House of Lords meant that Thatcher lost one of her key sounding boards; he was a critic she respected enough to listen to, and losing him meant losing her eyes and ears.
Ronald Reagan was Thatcher’s ideological soulmate and needed to be here. Just as he backed her during the Falklands crisis, she was the only European leader who backed his retaliation against Gaddafi. We do see Thatcher tearing Al Haig to pieces, but that was only a small part of the relationship between the US and the UK.
British Prime Ministers, unlike American presidents, have very few personal aides. When cabinet meetings went late at Downing Street, Thatcher would regularly cook eggs and bacon for people working late. That’s the sort of thing that should be in a film that’s meant to be humanizing. But we don’t get the actual Thatcher: we get a Lloyd and Morgan’s caricature.
In evaluating a candidate for office, there are — ultimately — only two questions to ask:
What has he done that is relevant to the office he seeks? and
Can he get into office and, once there, deliver on his previous record?
All else is details.
Based on the answers to these questions, I believe Gov. Jon Huntsman is the best of the remaining candidates to challenge President Obama next fall. None of the others offer his combination of conservative accomplishment in office, electability against the president, and likelihood for success once there.
As to the first question, Governor Huntsman has a record of achievement in Utah that should give conservatives of all varieties much to applaud. Tax hawks can note that he reduced sales, business, and state income taxes, saving Utah’s taxpayers a net of $409M. Pro-lifers may note that Huntsman signed three anti-abortion bills while in office: one banning second-trimester abortions, another making third-trimester abortions count as felonies, and a third requiring abortion providers to explain that unborn children experience pain. Libertarians and gun-owners can celebrate his liberalization of Utah’s draconian alcohol laws and Utah H.B. 357, recognizing the right of citizens to carry concealed weapons on their property and in their vehicles without a license. As Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in his superb profile of the governor this past summer:
In Jon Huntsman’s America, once a child survives the first trimester, he’s well on the way to having a rifle in his small hands and extra money in his pockets.
“Not that he’s an important guy, Frum,” O’Reilly noted as he asked Goldberg for analysis, but did note that it was a strange attack coming from a conservative. “They seem to be mad at Fox News,” he suggested. Goldberg had an answer to why this was the case: “there are two kinds of conservatives… intellectual conservatives, or something close to that– they don’t like the riff-raff.” Goldberg argued Frum was one of these intellectuals, and almost seemed sympathetic when asking O’Reilly rhetorically, “could you imagine how frustrating it must be to be an intellectual” who realizes “the riff-raff have more of an influence on politics and culture?”
Conor Friedersdorf suggested that Bill O’Reilly and Bernard Goldberg are not only intellectuals themselves, but are also bad intellectuals:
When used as a noun, the definition of “intellectual” is simple enough: a person who relies on their intellect, or mental labor, for work or leisure. . . .
I want to address this notion that it’s coherent to divide professional writers, pundits, and media personalities into the categories “intellectual” and “non-intellectual.” Because it isn’t.
Take Bill O’Reilly, who as an honors student in college majored in history and wrote for the school newspaper. In addition to his early media gigs, he was briefly a teacher and earned a master’s of public administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He’s also authored 10 books, including a historical account of Lincoln’s assassination. This isn’t to say that O’Reilly’s arguments are particularly rigorous, or that his books are particularly good. He isn’t an intellectual who produces good work. But as surely as Mary-Kate Olsen is an actress, O’Reilly is an intellectual.
As is Rush Limbaugh. All the man produces are ideas and arguments — do they not flow from his intellect? Again, they aren’t particularly good ideas.
Conor defines “intellectual” far too broadly, since just about everybody who follows politics or is an activist relies on the intellect. Paul Johnson, who wrote the excellent Intellectuals, defined the word thus: “An intellectual is somebody who thinks ideas are more important than people.” It’s a harsher, more stringent definition–but it clarifies.
Conservatives have rightly been skeptical of Johnson’s intellectuals. The only way to understand Limbaugh and Goldberg’s aspersions on intellectuals is to understand that they’re talking about Johnson’s definition, not Conor’s. Eric Hoffer once explained the trouble with Johnson’s intellectuals thus: “The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.” That’s the sort of thing David Frum takes mild offense at being compared to (Frum seems to know enough not to be too offended at the attack).
The irony of it all is that Limbaugh in particular is a defender of conservative ideology; if conservatism were a faith, Limbaugh would easily be fidei defensor. Frum’s critique of much of contemporary conservative ideology is that it doesn’t help ordinary people and in some places actively hurts their interests. In other words, Limbaugh is a Johnson intellectual and Frum isn’t.
This is what people like me were warning of the early days of the GWOT:
Either Monday or Tuesday the Senate will vote on a bill that allows the US military to imprison civilians with no formal charges and hold them with no trial.
The ACLU reports even US citizens wouldn’t be immune as the legislation aims to declare national territory part of the “battlefield” in the War on Terror.
News is breaking today about NATO forces killing a couple dozen Pakistani soldiers. This is likely to be a big story, is likely to have long-lasting repercussions, and is, undoubtedly, bad news.
For whatever reason, the first round of stories about this subject has come from Reuters – al Reuters to its friends. I don’t pay much attention to al Reuters these days, so perhaps I am unique in being surprised to see that it has adopted the term “war on militancy” to describe what we provincial rubes sometimes call the War on Terror. The latter isn’t the best term, and has certain propagandistic qualities, but … war on militancy? Really? The flaws of “War on Terror” can be somewhat forgiven by observing that: 1) the term was crafted during a crisis when terminology was not the number one priority, and 2) it was developed by politicians with an agenda, so of course it’s going to have propagandistic qualities. A great many war names have this quality – several European kingdoms went to great lengths not to use the US government’s term “civil war” to describe the North American hostilities between 1861-65, as those hostilities were only a “civil war” if you believe there was no right of secession.
I’m open to journalists, particularly international journalists, adopting a more neutral terminology than what our government uses. Actually, I’d kinda prefer that they would, since the neutrality of outsiders is always useful to examine ourselves. But “War on Militancy” is utter nonsense, made worse by the observation that a lot of people put a lot of effort creating it. Professional “journalists” – people who tell us that they tell stories objectively – spent years thinking about this, and the best they can do is an oxymoron? Personally, if I’m forced to pick between the nonsense jingoistic phrase of my government or the nonsense jingoistic phrase of an international news organization that has made it clear it opposes my government, I’ll take the domestic nonsense. At least it’s our nonsense.
Back in my political campaign days, an old political hand once advised me to try to avoid having a candidate visit a sporting event. His reasoning was that fans are more than a little irrational in the love for their team, and anything that interfered with their enjoyment of the game could get booed. Applauding fans wouldn’t be news, but booing would be, so unpredictable sports events should be avoided. Or, as Dick Armey once put it, “If you insist on center stage, you get the tomatoes” (Axiom 22).
To recap, in case you aren’t interested in watching the video: a veteran is introduced, along with his family; his accomplishments as a sniper recounted and he gets applauded; then Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden were introduced; then some booing; then everyone announced, “Start your engines.”
The whole stadium, thankfully, wasn’t booing, but there was clearly a significant number of upset fans. Unfortunately, we quite literally don’t know what they were upset about. Would there have been booing if Mrs. Obama were white? Or a man? Or a Republican? Or would any politician shoehorning in on the tribute to a veteran have gotten booed? We don’t know.
What has been far more interesting is the reaction of pundits and their interpretation of the boos. The debate has focused on race: did the fans intend a racial insult or no? There’s no way of asking the fans what they meant by booing, so the only thing pundits can do is project their own meaning onto the event.
Two friends of mine, Robert and Dan, were tweeting about the event. Twitter is good for many things, but nuanced debate isn’t one of them. Dan made a couple of tweets that I’d like to address a bit further. First:
@mikeahub@DCbigpappa it’s inappropriate to boo the first lady for any reason. I don’t care if it’s racial or not.
Dan is utterly right that it’s inappropriate, but whether it’s racial is the whole reason things blew up on Twitter and the blogosphere. First ladies from Lady Bird Johnson to Hillary Clinton have been booed. It was wrong then and wrong now. On first amendment grounds, they have the right to speak. Common courtesy alone should dictate that we listen politely to what they have to say. Booing is nearly always the wrong reaction; it’s inarticulate mockery, more worthy of barnyard animals than humans. It was particularly inappropriate on when Mrs. Obama was ceremonially starting a stock car race.
But since Mrs. Obama is the first black first lady, the question of race comes into many things she does. You may not care if the booing is racial, but many people do. Bad manners don’t get tons of commentary, but racism does.
Dan also made a second, rather more inflammatory tweet:
@mikeahub@DCbigpappa how do a group of people claim to be patriotic then publicly disrespect the first lady?
The booing fans are unquestionably guilty of bad manners, but a lack of patriotism? That seems overstated and unprovable. Measuring patriotism is tricky, for the most valiant soldier may have achieved his deeds not through love of country but through love of his own glory; we cannot measure patriotism without God’s abacus.
The booing of Michelle Obama has become a Rorschach test. What we see in it says more about how we view NASCAR fans than it does about what the NASCAR fans actually think. Going back to the old political hand, it’s pretty clear that booing politicians at sporting events is relatively common. We can’t know if the fans are racists, but we can know what you think of them.
You can follow me on Twitter, which where this blog post got started. I’m usually much less long winded there for some reason.
“If the government is to tell big business men how to run their business, then don’t you see that big business men have to get closer to the government even than they are now? Don’t you see that they must capture the government, in order not to be restrained too much by it? Must capture the government? They have already captured it. Are you going to invite those inside to stay? They don’t have to get there. They are there.”
Its Veterans Day here in the US so I would like to take the time to recognize two men, heroes, who served their country alongside you Yanks.
My grandfather John Sadler and my uncle Alan Lockett, both of the RAAF, are two of the finest men I have ever known. Their lives and service are an inspiration, and taking the time to remember them today brings a smile to my face.
Jamie posted this at 1:00 PM CDT on Friday, November 11th, 2011 as Heroes
President Obama’s Agriculture Department today announced that it will impose a new 15-cent charge on all fresh Christmas trees—the Christmas Tree Tax—to support a new Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.
In the Federal Register of November 8, 2011, Acting Administrator of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman announced that the Secretary of Agriculture will appoint a Christmas Tree Promotion Board. The purpose of the Board is to run a “program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace; maintain and expend existing markets for Christmas trees; and to carry out programs, plans, and projects designed to provide maximum benefits to the Christmas tree industry” (7 CFR 1214.46(n)). And the program of “information” is to include efforts to “enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States” (7 CFR 1214.10).
To pay for the new Federal Christmas tree image improvement and marketing program, the Department of Agriculture imposed a 15-cent fee on all sales of fresh Christmas trees by sellers of more than 500 trees per year (7 CFR 1214.52). And, of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent Federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.
To paraphrase Barry Soetoro: Let me be clear! The Federal Government finds it necessary to institute a program to improve the image and marketing if Christmas Trees.
The dumb thing here isn’t that Jay Carney isn’t aware that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is a folksaying, not a Bible verse. That’s certainly a dumb thing. But the dumb thing is that he quotes that line to justify the President acting without Congressional approval to “help the American people.” The saying is one that justifies self-reliance and self-interested action; I can’t think of a less appropriate application of the saying than to use it to justify government intervention in the lives of citizens.
So let’s follow out the logical implications: Obama is helping himself to the power to “help the American people” without Congressional assistance. In this formulation, the Lord will help: Obama. The Lord will not help: the American people, and Congress. Gee, thanks, Mr. President.
Perhaps it’s not a dumb statement after all, but a strangely upfront acceptance of the conservative critique that this administration is persuing its own self-aggrandizing policies, regardless of mounting evidence that those policies are utter failures? Doubtful. I don’t give Carney credit for being that smart.
Obama has only made ONE mistake? ONE? Solyndra? CLASS? Porkulus? Porkulus II: Electric Boogaloo? Asking for everyone’s approval to invade Libya EXCEPT Congress? Presidential Assassination Lists that include American Citizens?
A misanthrope was sipping coffee and pondering a quiet afternoon when the Devil dropped by to chat.
“Why decaf?” asked the Devil.
“Because I’m getting old and twitchy,” said the misanthrope. “Now I’ll merely be old and sleepy.”
“Like many of my Enemy’s creations,” the Devil said, “Coffee stirs things up. It agitates, unsettles, and gets folk to move about—or it just wakes them up, which might be all that’s needed.”
“Sort of like you?”
“Kind of,” admitted the Devil. “It’s why I usually give my Enemy’s wonders a twist. He creates poppies; I invent opium. He creates bold colors; I soothe with greys. He creates coffee; I make decaf. I exist in part to keep you from getting complacent. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but complacency kills many a kitten.”
“So what do you think of the protests around the world?”
“Which ones?” asked the Devil. “They’d like to think that they’re similar—the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street/Washington/What-have-you—but they’re different and problematic for me.”
“Interesting. I’d’ve thought you loved the chaos,” said the misanthrope.
“Oh, I do,” said the Devil. “But it’s tricky to turn it to my advantage some time. The mere fact that people are rightfully protesting is dangerous. After all, one doesn’t get to be Prince of Darkness and King of this world because things are going well. Fortunately, I have a great ally named Good Intentions. He’s very sweet and easy to lead around. He can be stubborn, but so long as he isn’t paying too much attention, I can work with him.”
“What do you think of the occupiers in various American cities?”
“For the moment, they’re comic relief,” said the Devil. “Banks really are landing on the taxpayers’ feet, but that’s not entirely the bankers’ fault. Every industry in the country would like to do that, but the bankers have just been the most successful. Sloth, the most underrated of the deadly sins, is the first part of the equation. Being bailed out for your mistakes worked for the bankers. The bankers were lazy and approved many things they never should have. So they begged politicians and were saved. (Perhaps taxpayers need better lobbyists.) The second part of the equation is envy: now the occupiers seem upset that they themselves aren’t able to land on some taxpayers’ feet.
“There’s a great deal of confusion. I’d love it if this chaos turned seriously ugly—arson, looting, rape, murder—but what crimes that have been committed seem damned to be small scale. It takes a certain degree of strength to be truly good or evil, and these protestors don’t seem to have it.”
“And what of the Arab Spring?” asked the misanthrope.
“Now we’re talking serious chaos and serious problems,” said the Devil. “Arab dictators are always some of my favorite people. If they’re not quite so vicious as Kim Jong Il or Castro, it’s not for lack of trying. Nobody decent is sorry to see Gaddafi go. I prefer systematic monsters myself, and Gaddafi was rather like Batman’s Joker, only even I failed to get the joke. The real trick for me is to see if I can turn these revolutions to my advantage. Mubarak and Gaddafi are replaceable, and their regimes can always (from my perspective) improve. Whether the ordinary people protesting will like my improvements, of course, is another story.”
“Didn’t you mention some problems?” asked the misanthrope.
“Well, yes,” said the Devil. “Decent people can always fight to take control. But mostly they’re slothful, too. Not awake enough to realize that goodness is an endless slog but evil is comfortable and always ready to take over. The good people, alas, have a chance to make a move and improve things. Which I don’t want—what kind of devil would I be if people improved on a wicked dictator? But I’m growing more confident by the day that things out there will go my way. Never mind whether Gaddafi deserved his brutal death: the mere fact that people are getting tangled up in that side story is a good omen for me. So long as people lack perspective, I can find a way to have my fun. Have another cup of decaf.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration Friday pulled the plug on a major program in the president’s signature health overhaul law – a long-term care insurance plan dogged from the beginning by doubts over its financial solvency.
Targeted by congressional Republicans for repeal, the long-term care plan became the first casualty in the political and policy wars over the health care law. The program had been expected to launch in 2013.
Although sponsored by the government, it was supposed to function as a self-sustaining voluntary insurance plan, open to working adults regardless of age or health. Workers would pay an affordable monthly premium during their careers, and could collect a modest daily cash benefit of at least $50 if they became disabled later in life. Beneficiaries could use the money for services to help them stay at home, or to help with nursing home bills.
But a central design flaw dogged CLASS from the beginning. Unless large numbers of healthy people willingly sign up during their working years, soaring premiums driven by the needs of disabled beneficiaries would destabilize it, eventually requiring a taxpayer bailout.
After months insisting that problems could be resolved, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, finally admitted Friday she doesn’t see how that can be done.
“Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time,” Sebelius said in a letter to congressional leaders.
So it turns out bureaucrats in Washington really don’t know everything. No matter how smart they think they are they simply can’t design the perfect system, or even a system that works better than what we have.