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Remembering Margaret Thatcher a year after her death

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It’s no secret that your average politician avoids plain speaking at all costs. He mouths platitudes that sound good, but which enable him to dodge accountability and turn whichever way the wind happens to be blowing.

So it’s always a bit startling when you hear one who lays it on the line. Using the following three examples, see if you can you identify one famous politician who excelled at that:

“Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous. You get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.”

“Wars are not caused by the buildup of weapons. They are caused when an aggressor believes he can achieve his objectives at an acceptable price.”

“We want a society where people are free to make choices, to make mistakes, to be generous and compassionate. This is what we mean by a moral society; not a society where the state is responsible for everything, and no one is responsible for the state.”

If you guessed Margaret Thatcher, go to the head of the class.

It’s been a year to the day since we lost Lady Thatcher. As the small sample you’ve just read proves, we lost more than a champion of freedom. We lost something that’s all too rare in any age; namely, a leader who knew what she believed in — and had the courage to say it.

That was quite a breath of fresh air back in the days of the Cold War, when most politicians spoke the language of detente and wondered how to contain the spread of communism. Lady Thatcher was not one of those politicians.

In fact, do you know who dubbed her “the Iron Lady”? The Soviet Army newspaper Red Star, in the wake of a remarkable speech she gave on Jan. 20, 1976. In it, she laid out quite directly the challenges her nation faced:

“The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. They know that they are a superpower in only one sense — the military sense. They are a failure in human and economic terms. But let us make no mistake. The Russians calculate that their military strength will more than make up for their economic and social weakness. They are determined to use it in order to get what they want from us.”

After noting the advance and determination of the Soviets globally, Lady Thatcher noted what the British government was doing to counteract this tide; namely, cutting defense. Deeply. She then quipped: “If there are further cuts, perhaps the defense secretary should change his title, for the sake of accuracy, to the secretary for insecurity.” She pointedly blamed the socialists for creating this situation.

Her point: Like it or not, threats to liberty don’t go away when you hide your head in the stand. You have to turn and fight — or risk being overrun and overruled. She knew that Britain and the United States have a key role in carrying on the defense of liberty. As she told us at The Heritage Foundation in 2002:

“America today is the only global superpower. Only America has the reach and means to deal with Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the other wicked psychopaths who will sooner or later step into their shoes. The rest of the world can and should do more. But so often wealthy countries with much to offer and more to lose just cheer — or grumble — on the sidelines.”

Now is the time to stop grumbling or merely cheering. The best way to honor Lady Thatcher’s legacy is to join the fight for freedom — and be vocal about it. That’s something you can’t do from the middle of the road.

 - Ed Feulner is the founder of the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in the Washington Times

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