Carly Fiorina, American 'Iron Lady'

One of Britain's greatest prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher — the only woman to hold the position, to date — famously addressed her 1980 Conservative Party Conference with the phrase "The lady's not for turning," which became synonymous with her confident, principle-based approach. An impressive figure has burst on the American political stage who embodies a similar style and America might just need her now as Britain needed Thatcher then.


With Carly Fiorina's emergence as a formidable Republican presidential candidate — and as the only woman in the lineup — naturally, comparisons are being made to Thatcher. While it is easy to connect the dots as both are strong women leaders who espouse conservative principles, when specifics of policy ideas, background and even timing are considered, Fiorina's donning of the "American Iron Lady" mantle is quite compelling. Delving a bit below the surface, the similarities between the two are surprising.

Neither Lady Thatcher nor Fiorina started off their lives or even their careers in privileged circumstances. Both worked their way up and smashed the proverbial glass ceilings. A grocer's daughter who grew up in Grantham, Lincolnshire, an ordinary English neighborhood, Margaret Roberts's early life foretold little of the great destiny she was to carve out through intelligence, practicality and determination. Rewarded for her impressive academic performance, she won a scholarship to Oxford University and then skillfully navigated a political career that resulted in her being named Tory party leader in 1975, and then elected prime minister in 1979.

For her part, Fiorina climbed to the top of corporate America. Beginning as a management trainee at AT&T, Fiorina worked her way up to senior vice president of hardware, where she helped launch a spinoff, Lucent. In 1998, she was named most powerful woman in business by Fortune. In 1999, Hewlett-Packard hired her as its chief executive — the first woman ever to run a Fortune 50 company. Like Thatcher's, Fiorina’s trajectory too can be attributed to focus, intelligence and determination.

Yet another important parallel between these two accomplished women is their refusal to embrace the cheap shot of identity politics — that their sex, for instance, enabled their careers or enhanced them in some way. Neither Fiorina nor Thatcher had any time for the feminist movement, though both are living embodiments of what a woman, or indeed, a person, can attain.

Unlike the vision that traditional feminists espouse that women are victims, Fiorina promotes an America that is opportunity-laden for all its citizens—women included. While she might have experienced anti-female discrimination in her climb up the corporate ladder, unlike traditional feminists, this does not detract one iota from her championing of the potential of America — a theme which must be anathema to Hilary Clinton and her supporters. Indeed, as Carrie Lukas writes in the New York Post:

Fiorina capitalizes on conservatives' desire to counter Clinton and to demonstrate that the Right is welcoming of women leaders. But unlike Clinton, who implies America has a duty to elect her to bleach the country’s stain of sexism, Fiorina casts her story as a part of women’s steady progress.

Thatcher, who felt that women (and indeed all people) should be promoted only through merit, also would have scoffed at Clinton supporters' notion that the time has come for a woman president (as long as it's a woman like Clinton). Douglas Hurd, who served as Thatcher's minister for Europe, home secretary and foreign secretary, said that "She wasn't a feminist. All that line of argument left her cold." On criticism that Thatcher didn't have enough women in her government, Hurd rightly noted that "That wasn't her job for heaven's sake," he said. "She wanted to appoint the best people."

Certainly on policy ideas, Thatcher and Fiorina hold similar tenets — the traditional, sound conservative principles of free markets, small government and a strong national defense. In a recent interview, Fiorina could have been channeling the Iron Lady when she said that "conservative principles work better for everyone, conservative principles work better to lift people up, to grow our economy, to take people out of poverty, to unlock people's potential."

Thatcher made a career of lifting up her nation via conservative principles. She restored strength in crippled British industry and ensured a seat at the foreign policy table for Britain, disproportionate to its size. In fact, current British Prime Minister David Cameron has said of Thatcher: "[S]he didn’t just lead our country; she saved our country."

Sadly the world is shifting away from the achievements of Thatcher, with most nations experiencing a bloating of the state's share of the economy, increased regulation and  a general rejection of free-market thinking.

We must reverse this bad trend. The Economist tells us that "This is a crucial time to hang on to Margaret Thatcher's central perception — that for countries to flourish, people need to push back against the advance of the state. What the world needs now is more Thatcherism, not less."

Now more than ever, our country needs saving, and armed with many Thatcherite ideas and principles as well as those of her own, Carly Fiorina may be just the Iron Lady who is up to the task.

Cohen, head of the New York office of Off the Record Strategies and New York director of the Anglosphere Society, spent years advising the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Western European affairs and was founding executive director of the House United Kingdom Caucus.