Dan has written a few good posts already about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as both someone who should be viewed as a “feminist icon,” and as a woman who who rose to power “by dint of her own striving,” in the words of Meryl Streep. In the second post, Dan asked a rhetorical question about the reception of strong, conservative women in politics: “Why is it that certain conservative leaders, particularly women who capture the public imagination, endure this ‘special hatred and ridicule’?”
Dan’s question reminded me of something I saw at the Daily Caller. On Geraldo Rivera’s radio program yesterday, Ann Coulter claimed that, according to sources allegedly close to Thatcher, Lady Thatcher wanted to meet with Sarah Palin to give her advice about presenting herself more effectively:
“One thing that I know, because I know people who know her, is when Sarah Palin first burst on the scene, she wanted to have a meeting with Palin, because she saw raw political talent, but wanted to teach Sarah Palin to do what she did,” Coulter said. “I just know it from friends of hers — to teach [Palin] to speak proper English. Sarah Palin did not meet with her. And just a year or two ago, when Sarah Palin was promoting some reality show or something, she went to England and she announced to the press that she was planning on dropping by to see Lady Thatcher. And Lady Thatcher put out the word that she would not be available.”
I have no clue as to the reliability of Coulter’s sources in this instance or the veracity of those reports, but regardless of whether the story is true or whether it is merely apocryphal, it does serve to illustrate some key differences among Thatcher, Palin, and the political environment that exists in the U.S. today as opposed to that that existed in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.
There should be no doubt that the left in Britain hated Thatcher as much as the left in America hates Palin–and has ever since she lambasted Obama in her convention speech in September 2008. But despite that similarity and the fact that both Palin and Thatcher are strong, outspoken conservative women, it strikes me as a sort of revisionist history to suggest, as Coulter implicitly does, that Palin’s situation today might have taken a very different course had she met with Thatcher when she “first burst on the scene,” whenever, exactly, that was.
Thatcher rose to prominence in Britain over many years in the British House of Commons, a branch of parliament known for its particularly rowdy and confrontational style of debate and discussion. Thatcher did well in that environment and successfully managed to become the head of her party there. Thatcher’s history of rising to power through parliament bears some similarities to the manner in which Palin rose to become governor of Alaska and to take on the entrenched interests of her own party.
But the similarities end there. The crucial difference is that Thatcher’s rise to power occurred on a broader political stage than Palin’s did, and given the short timeframe in which Palin went from being a governor to being a national figure, it should be evident that she had few opportunities to shape the counter-narrative that the media and the left started putting out about her shortly after she “burst on the scene.”
Short of advising her not to do an interview with Katie Couric, I can’t imagine what Lady Thatcher could have said or done to help Palin navigate the treacherous waters of the 2008 presidential campaign, and that was especially the case as long as Palin’s fate was tied to that of John McCain, one of the most conciliatory candidates I have ever seen run for the presidency.
After the campaign ended, Margaret Thatcher might have been able to help Palin gain a little more polish, perhaps, but I doubt that would have done anything to change the situation in which Palin found herself, with lawsuit after lawsuit filed against her in Alaska, until she ultimately decided to resign as governor in July 2009. Although the media’s harsh attacks on Palin greatly damaged her image with a large segment of the public at large, I would argue that Palin’s decision to step down as governor had more of an impact on dampening enthusiasm for her as a candidate for the presidency in 2012 among many conservatives.
Palin’s story is still being written. Whether or not she decides to run for elective office again remains to be seen. While I have no doubt that Margaret Thatcher could have given her some excellent advice and guidance, it also seems rather like wishful thinking to suggest that Palin’s political fortunes would be dramatically different today had she met with Thatcher many years ago.
Update: Nile Gardner first reported that the Thatcher-Palin story was a hoax when he wrote about it in 2011. (Hat Tip: Professor Jacobson.) Of course, as The Right Scoop asks, that makes one wonder what Coulter is trying to accomplish by repeating it.