In the wake of Brexit, my boyfriend Garrett, my mom and I re-watched The Iron Lady. The first time I saw it, my friend Caitlin and I were in the 11th grade. It was the day after our school’s “Brown and White” dance, and we had nothing better to do. On top of that, we were on a mission to get out more. (Although I’m not quite sure if motivating one’s self to go a movie theater is really ‘getting out more.’ Hm.) Nonetheless, both times I viewed it I was really struck by the film’s ultra-humanizing portrayal of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I walked away from this most recent showing in a bit of a pickle. Did I like the longest reigning PM or not? Did my opinion matter? So I started doing some research. In particular, I bought John Campbell’s The Iron Lady. I’m only one hundred pages in, with several hundred more to go, and I’m still not remotely sure of what I think about her. I don’t know whether I’m reading this to learn about her as a person-person, distinct from her role in government, or as a Prime Minister. I also don’t know if such a task is even possible.
I’ve encountered this dilemma once before when I started reading the H.W. Brands’ tome Reagan: The Life. The whole reason I wanted to learn more about him stemmed from a conversation I had with a distant relative. He ranked Reagan as the worst President in American history. (This seemed a bit rough, considering Jackson and his Trail of Tears, but whatever.) At the same time, I’d just spoken to a friend about how much her whole family adored, even seemed to worship, Reagan. Also, can we all note that these figures overlapped in history? That they had even forged a ’special relationship’ with one another? Something’s up with that.
It’s complicated assessing recent polarizing figures in history. Some are regarded as entirely bad, while others are regarded as entirely good. For leaders that struck cords within such disparate, extreme sectors, I can’t seem to reconcile those factors and form an opinion. I find it even more complicated when I talk to people I admire about this topic, especially when I receive a wide array of different answers. I guess I have to learn to cull this information and form my own opinion. (But I don’t even know what the opinion is really, truly in reference to!)
Ramblings and questions aside, both “Reagan: A Life” and “The Iron Lady” have proven to be great reads so far. Whatever your opinion on these stalwart leaders of the 1980’s, there’s a bunch of interesting information. Between fact checking Reagan’s claims about the number of people he saved as a lifeguard, and confronting Thatcher’s un-feminist approach to governing, there’s definitely some great, well-developed opinion writing in these biographies. It’s surprisingly more fair than I would have expected— and annoyingly so. If only one of the authors had swung me in a particular direction, I wouldn’t be struggling with this topic so much! Does anyone have a clear, formulated opinion on Reagan or Thatcher? I’d love to hear it!