Any modern history that does not include Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher among the most important world leaders of the 20th century instantly sacrifices any claim to credibility.
Former British Prime Minister Thatcher, who died Monday at 87, all but remade the United Kingdom of the 1980s in her own ladylike yet unyielding image, much as her friend and ally Ronald Reagan remade the United States in his.
In many ways, Reagan and Thatcher were and are the bookends of late 20th century Western conservatism. Although Thatcher lacked Reagan's seemingly effortless amiability, she was every bit his match in resolve. The "Iron Lady" label came courtesy of Soviet journalists, and would soon become a term of admiration and, to some, endearment.
Like Reagan, she came to power at a time when Britain was suffering from crises of both economics and national confidence, and saw bloated government as the heart of the problem.
Her administration's privatizing of state-run industries would hardly seem radical to most Americans: Among the government-operated institutions at the time were British Airways, Rolls-Royce, the coal and steel industries, a telecom company, gas, water and electrical utilities.
Supporters credited her with an economic revival; critics accused her of insensitivity to the wretchedly poor and of further widening England's historically yawning social and economic chasms. But her convictions were unshakable.
Thatcher is said, by foes and admirers alike, to have had an absolute confidence in her own rightness. It was a trait that sometimes worked to her and her country's advantage, as when she astutely saw in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a possible end to the Cold War; and sometimes to her detriment, as when she imposed a hugely unpopular tax in 1989 and was eventually ousted by her own party.
Thatcher was described as "a very divisive figure" by none other than Bernard Ingham, her own loyal press secretary. He also described her as "a patriot with a great love for this country."
Copyright the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. Distributed by The Associated Press.