It’s not often when American politicians stumble over one other to praise a foreign leader, but that's exactly what happened following the news of Margaret Thatcher's death Monday.
In her time as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, Thatcher was that rare world leader whose profile in the United States loomed as large as that of any American. Alongside President Ronald Reagan, Thatcher led a conservative renaissance that transformed the Anglo-American political sphere and still echoes on today. The conservative message of lower taxes and fewer regulations had existed before the rises of Thatcher and Reagan, but the two leaders sold them like none of their conservative predecessors had been able to do, and in doing so, they defined the '80s as a decade of free markets and unfettered capitalism. Thatcher was widely credited for helping to bring about an end to the Cold War, slowing the dreaded economic cycle of "stagflation" and reenergizing a national economy that had been lagging for years.
However, these successes didn't come without problems. British unemployment ran high during much of her tenure, income inequality remained a contentious issue that she was never able to fully solve, the Falklands War is still a powderkeg issue and her controversial policies on privatization forever changed the British economy. Her trademark hard-charging style made her enemies fear her, but also contributed to the image of her as unnecessarily aggressive and undiplomatic.
When the news of Thatcher’s death broke, it made almost as large an impact in the U.S. as the death of a former American president. Politicians issued statements, cable networks stopped their programming for special reports and Washington ground to a halt (well, more of a halt than usual, at any rate) to commemorate the leader from across the Atlantic who had made such a great impact on the world.
Across the states, American politicians have been virutally united in their response to the Prime Minister's death.
"Prime Minister Thatcher is a great example of strength and character, and a great ally who strengthened the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States," former president George W. Bush wrote in a post on his Facebook page. "Laura and I join the people of Great Britain in remembering the life and leadership of this strong woman and friend."
President Obama's statement was even more glowing, calling her "one of the great champions of freedom and liberty" and saying that the U.S. "will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history — we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."
Nancy Reagan's memorial statement, "Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates, committed to freedom and resolved to end Communism," recieved immense attention from both American and British media.
In the United Kingdom, however, not all reactions were as positive. Although Thatcher’s British supporters idolized her, her detractors were equally fervent in their opposition. Even as British leadership figures praised her life as a public servant, many in the U.K. were much less reverent. Across Britain, crowds gathered to cheer her death, handing out “Thatcher death cake” in celebration of Thatcher’s passing, and many British celebrities were scathing in their reactions. On the internet, British personality Simon “Honeydew” Lane of the popular Yogscast pulled no punches in his assessment of his former PM, and a gif in the "Polandball" style of the U.K. celebrating quickly made the rounds across various sites. Like most transformative figures, Thatcher remains intensely polarizing even though it has been over two decades since she held actual power. Her legacy is still highly contended, and her death has brought little clarity to the picture, bringing out both her allies and her enemies in full force.