As I was getting up this morning, news was breaking of the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I thought I knew what would follow: the usual uninterrupted stream of praise for her "great contributions" to public life in her country and around the world, the beaming faces of people who can find one platitude or another, one personal anecdote or another to tell about the dearly departed. We certainly got hefty doses of those things.
We saw something else, though, something we are really not used to seeing in the staged reactions to the death of anyone, let alone a public figure. Dancing in the streets in various corners of Britain, toasting the demise of a hated enemy with a pint of beer – or of milk, recalling her cancellation of the school milk program as Minister of Education earlier in her career. An article recalling the twenty-one songs recorded to show disagreement with her direction, even a movement to encourage people to purchase the tune "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" this week, so that it would be number one for online purchases in the week of her death.
I can hear the clucking now: "Terrible!" "Tasteless!" "Lacking respect for the dead!" I will allow that even the most horrible of individuals may not be so horrible to those close to them, and I would never sanction the seeking out of those people to denounce the wickedness of the deceased. I have a certain respect for that level of personal loss, having suffered it myself on more than one occasion. For anyone who wasn't a close personal friend or family member, get over it. A public figure will continue to evoke positive reactions from allies and negative ones from enemies. It's the nature of the choice to assume power and push a particular agenda forward.
This was a woman who championed greed over compassion, who did her best to dismantle social supports and the collective rights of workers while reducing the "burden" of taxes on the wealthy and corporations. She was despised by those she attacked and liked by those she benefited, at least until her popularity started to fade and then even her party dumped her unceremoniously. For those people to heap praise upon her now is pure hypocrisy.
She was on the wrong side of history on the issue of apartheid in South Africa, and on the morally wrong side of many other issues. She hasn't been able to cause any new damage for years, though the lasting legacy of her policies continues to contribute to the deprivation of many. I think I've been pretty clear that I am not a believer, in the religious sense. I don't think there's a special punishment waiting for her, or a special reward either. She, like each of us, will now decompose or have that process hurried along by cremation.
There's a pithy statement attributed to Bette Davis on the occasion of the death of Joan Crawford that I have to adapt to this situation: I believe that one should only say good about the dead. Margaret Thatcher is dead. Good.