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Thatcher and Bush were just as bad as you remembered them

This past week saw the opening of the George W. Bush library in Texas, with great pomp and ceremony. This business of presidential libraries baffles me. What is it with presidents having their own libraries after they leave office? Who goes to visit such things? Does any other country in the world do this?

If these libraries are meant to serve as a repository of their papers for scholars to study, surely it would be simpler to give them to the National Archives? The libraries seem to be some sort of grandiose attempt to put the best face on their time in office and it just seems weird to me, almost as bad and self-aggrandizing as building a mausoleum for some leader’s remains.

These occasions tend to have a lot of quasi-eulogizing, with people feeling obliged to say only good things about the person. I think that the same rules should apply as those following the deaths of public figures, and consist of an honest examination of their records. Veteran Australian journalist John Pilger, like Glenda Jackson, gives us a good example of what should happen, describing of all the terrible things that Margaret Thatcher did in office that made her such an awful prime minister.

The corruption and inhumanity under Thatcher knew no borders. When she came to power in 1979, Thatcher demanded a total ban on exports of milk to Vietnam. The American invasion had left a third of Vietnamese children malnourished.

I witnessed many distressing sights, including infants going blind from a lack of vitamins. “I cannot tolerate this,” said an anguished doctor in a Saigon paediatric hospital, as we looked at a dying boy. Oxfam and Save the Children had made clear to the British government the gravity of the emergency. An embargo led by the US had forced up the local price of a kilo of milk up to ten times that of a kilo of meat. Many children could have been restored with milk. Thatcher’s ban held.

Her funeral was a propaganda stunt, fit for a dictator: an absurd show of militarism, as if a coup had taken place. And it has. “Her real triumph”, said another of her boys, Geoffrey Howe, a Thatcher minister, “was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”

In 1997, Thatcher was the first former prime minister to visit Tony Blair after he entered Downing Street. There is a photo of them, joined in rictus: the budding war criminal with his mentor. When Ed Milliband, in his unctuous “tribute”, caricatured Thatcher as a “brave” feminist hero whose achievements he personally “honoured”, you knew the old killer had not died at all.

Chris Hayes follows Pilger’s example with the Bush library and says that he feels under no obligation to say only good things and that the Bush presidency was just as bad as we remembered it to be.

Comments

  1. Ulysses says

    I love Hayes’ ending: “Don’t overthink the Bush presidency. It was just as bad as you thought.”

    I certainly can’t disagree.

  2. slc1 says

    1. I have met a number of folks from Great Britain who think that Thatcher did a great job, particularly in taming the unions that were totally out of control before she took power. In addition, I would cite historian John Keegan who stated in one of his books that Great Britain went from a rather poor country as far as 1st world attributes are concerned to a relatively affluent country under her primeministership.

    2. The Rethuglican shills, Jennifer Ruben and Charles Krauthammer were out on the Washington Post this week with a pack of lies about Bush.

  3. Aaroninmelbourne says

    Where I live in Australia, we had a Premier (similar to a US Governor, the Prime Ministerial equivalent at State level) that inherited a State that had a number of serious economic problems. His first move was a marathon parliamentary sitting that continued for over a full day, passing various Bills. They were tough times: the state was nearly broke and running a budget deficit. No matter what the Government did, it would be painful. We, the people, knew that.
    Schools were amalgamated, hospital beds closed, land sold off, amenities privatized. It was awful, but what really made people angry, what really made people question what this man’s motives were, was when he made two other changes in that emergency session: he voted himself a pay raise, and provided himself $50,000 for office refurbishments.
    But then it really started: $100 million for a museum here, $250 million for a museum there, $2 billion for a sports stadium. His legacy was that he cut essential services while throwing vast sums towards frippery.
    Politicians are people. They make good decisions, and they make bad. Some things they do, they should rightly feel ashamed over. Sometimes those mistakes are forgivable; other times not. Ultimately however, the value of their leadership must be made on balance. Our Premier balanced an out-of-control budget, and then proceeded to make a series of awful decisions. Thatcher controlled the unions but her uncompromising policies are still damaging northern Britain to this day. Bush read stories to some children but still authorized political prisons, torture and illegal wars. When the bad outweigh the good, the people have a right to judge the leader as a poor one.

  4. twosheds1 says

    Well said, Aaron.

    When I read this: “transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”

    I immediately thought of Reagan. Both he and Thatcher succeeded in moving their nations to a new normal, much farther to the right. What seems normal now (such as the demonization of unions) was unthinkable in the ’70s.

  5. mnb0 says

    Not only in the USA and the UK – in The Netherlands it’s the same. The Dutch Labour Party is neo-liberal since the early 90′s with the predictable result that the income gap has increased immensely since 1980.
    In Europe the fundamental problem though is that left has failed to come with an answer that does justice to the needs of the poor and the vulnerable.
    As for Thatcher doing a great job: just look at this.

    http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/2019-poverty-wealth-place.pdf

  6. Dunc says

    In addition, I would cite historian John Keegan who stated in one of his books that Great Britain went from a rather poor country as far as 1st world attributes are concerned to a relatively affluent country under her primeministership.

    While it’s true that this did happen during her term in office, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean that it was actually because of any of her policies. Much of the rest of the world also saw significant economic growth during that period, and in the UK in particular, there was a massive increase in the exploitation of oil and gas from the North Sea.

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