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Thatcher and Palin? Out of frame, out of bounds

June 15, 2010 |  9:44 am
There's word rumbling around Great Britain and beyond that Sarah Palin is angling to meet Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to be that nation's prime minister.

It's a photo op that would be a triumph for Palin, an image supposedly showing the solidarity of conservative female leaders.

But it would be bogus. Not photoshopped-bogus, but dishonest nonetheless.

Baroness Thatcher is suffering from dementia, according to her daughter, Carol. Writing in the Daily Mail more than a year and a half ago, Carol Thatcher chronicled her mother's decline: "On bad days, she could hardly remember the beginning of a sentence by the time she got to the end.''

For a woman of Thatcher's formidable intellect and unflagging energy, it's a sad decline. For Palin's camp to use her as a human prop, as in a photo op, it's unforgivable.

For one thing, Thatcher was never about female solidarity. For another, she did not suffer fools gladly; her exacting impatience with anyone not up to snuff was legendary. And what the woman who fought to become prime minister and fought harder to stay there might have said of a governor who walked away from her elected office can be vividly and acidly imagined.

I spent a good bit of time a few years back reading up about Thatcher and talking about her with her former press secretary and with a noted British historian who knew her and her career. I last saw Baroness Thatcher in 2002, in St. Paul's Cathedral for the queen's golden jubilee. Nave and apse alike resonated to the sound of Thatcher's diamond-drill voice, though it had gone a bit quavery, and by her daughter's account, she was already beginning to lose her vise-like mental grasp.

It would be worse than meaningless -- it would be exploitive, to position Baroness Thatcher like a prop next to Palin. If Thatcher even has any idea who Palin is, I suspect the moment would mean as little to her as a casual snapshot does to the movie star ambushed in a restaurant by some random fan who hugs the star like a pal for the one instant it takes to make the picture, and uses it thereafter to show some talismanic connection.

It would be an image that Palin would trot out long after Thatcher had died, as putative proof that some torch had been passed, some mantle had been assumed, woman to woman, leader to leader -- pathetic, manipulative, and unfair.

If Palin comes calling, I hope -- to use a phrase from Nancy Reagan, the wife of Thatcher's political soul-mate, Ronald Reagan -- that someone in Baroness Thatcher's entourage has the wit and the kindness to ''just say no.''

-- Patt Morrison

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