Is Margaret Thatcher the New Ronald Reagan?

What Women Really Think
June 30 2011 5:10 PM

Is Margaret Thatcher the New Ronald Reagan?

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Watch out, Reagan. Republicans have found a new boyfriend. Well, girlfriend, actually. This week Mitt Romney debuted a new campaign ad that bears a striking resemblance to one used by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party in 1978. Both depict a snaking line of mopey job-seekers at the unemployment office. While the original version used the clever pun “Labour Isn’t Working,” Romney lazily substituted in “Obama” for “Labour.” At first blush, this might seem like an unusual tribute, but it turns out Romney’s not the only GOP hopeful leeching off the Iron Lady’s legacy this election season.

Sarah Palin suffered a well-publicized snub after complimenting Thatcher and expressing a desire to pay her a visit during a July jaunt to the UK. As Talking Points Memo reports, almost every serious 2012 Republican contender is getting in on the Thaction:

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Rick Santorum often cites her battles against the welfare state on the trail, citing her difficulties overcoming Britain's single-payer health care system in attacking President Obama's health law. And Michele Bachmann's backers have played up comparisons to Thatcher in the press. Newt Gingrich has also taken to quoting her in speeches.

While Thatcher worship isn’t an entirely new phenomenon—both Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson cozied up to the former PM during the last presidential primary—it’s certainly becoming more common. At a time when we still haven’t elected a woman president and seem to be eons away from gender parity in either house of Congress, it’s refreshing to see politicians, particularly Republicans, namedrop a female pol. But that’s probably what they’re thinking, too. With the meteoric rise of Sarah Palin and increasing mainstream acceptance of Michele Bachmann, traditional GOP candidates can see the way the winds are blowing. They may have difficulty navigating the rough waters of presidential gender politics, but at least they know the value of tokenism.

Indeed, during Margaret Thatcher’s time in office, female MPs were still a relatively rare breed. As Britain faced the prospect of steep budgetary cuts, having a lady figurehead, even an “iron” one, likely provided the sugary coating needed to make the austerity measures go down. Palin, Bachmann, and other Tea Party women are having a similar effect here. They’re putting a friendly female face on government cuts that disproportionately hurt women, who are more likely to work in the public sector, receive government assistance, and take advantage of federally subsidized child and health care. As the Republican candidates continue to talk tough on the economy and promulgate policies that are unequivocally bad for women, playing up the female angle is just playing smart politics.