Today, we often take our economic freedom for granted when, not too many years ago, the triumph of free enterprise was in serious question. But, thanks to leaders like Margaret Thatcher, freedom and economic opportunity are available to millions of people around the world.
Her passing today concludes a remarkable life, one that began in humble origins but rose to the heights of power. As Prime Minister, she not only used her political clout to expand liberty and economic opportunity in her country, but across the world. Working with her friend and partner President Ronald Reagan, they ensured that the bright torch of liberty was able to shine into the darkness created by decades of communist oppression. The pair set in motion the collapse of the Soviet Union and gave the world an uplifting and promising alternative to the destructive and dehumanizing ideology of communism.
Nearly two decades ago, I had the privilege to visit with the former Prime Minister when she came to Virginia to address the General Assembly, just as her predecessor Winston Churchill had done some 40 years before.
In 1995, memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall were still fresh in the minds of Americans, and during my encounter with the Lady Thatcher, I asked her, “It must have been amazing to watch the Berlin Wall fall. How did you feel when it happened?”
“Feel?” she stated without any hint of emotion. “Why I didn’t feel anything really. It was what was supposed to happen.”
For her, the march to liberty and freedom was as basic as our own DNA. In every fiber of her being, she knew it was humankind’s destiny, and it was just a matter of “when,” not “if,” it would happen for all the people of the world.
The Iron Curtain that fell across Europe is but a rusty remnant. The challenges to freedom and prosperity, however, have returned anew. Economic freedom and prosperity remain at substantial risk, in particular on the very continent where Prime Minister Thatcher helped defeat communism. Both are also in jeopardy here at home, where our government has become unmoored from the limits envisioned by its founders and threatens to burden future generations with immense debt. And free market capitalism itself is being threatened by a new form of communism that outwardly doesn’t seem as vile as its Soviet and Maoist predecessors, but is every bit as dehumanizing.
Americans, and Brits as well, have a way of altering the road to history, and there is no doubt that we can overcome these 21st century obstacles. Just as we did in the 1970s, we seem to be waiting for another “perfect storm” of leaders to emerge on the world stage and stand out as giants again, as did Lady Thatcher, President Reagan and Pope John Paul II. The “Iron Lady” never lacked for will, and future leaders will need to emulate her leadership and commitment to principle that gave us a world where freedom, economic opportunity and prosperity made significant advances.