The death of any iconic global figure is often the occasion for colorful anecdotes, but the one that has been repeated Monday in the wake of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death—that she snubbed former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2011 – just doesn’t pass the smell test with me.
In 2011, as part of Palin’s bid to be taken seriously as a political leader and potential presidential candidate after her difficult national coming out in 2008 and subsequent resignation as Alaska governor, she visited India and Israel. In India, she sat for a long question-and-answer session with a business group. In Israel, she visited Jerusalem and had a private dinner with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Later that summer, after leading reporters on a wild goose chase across the Eastern Seaboard in a huge bus festooned with her name while pretending to be on a “family vacation,” she told a reporter that she planned to visit Sudan in July and hoped Thatcher, one of her great heroes, would be well enough to see her when she stopped in England.
PHOTOS: Margaret Thatcher | 1925 - 2013
It was not the first time she had spoken about wanting to meet Thatcher.
In 2010, the Guardian reported that Thatcher had agreed to meet with Palin: “Her representatives approached Margaret Thatcher to ask for a meeting as part of a bid to enhance her claim to be the ‘heir to Ronald Reagan’ and prepare to challenge Mr Obama,” the paper said. “A spokesman said: ‘We had an informal approach asking if Lady Thatcher would meet Mrs. Palin if she comes to Britain and we said yes.'"
The proposed meeting never came to pass.
As my L.A. Times colleague Patt Morrison explained, “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.’”
As for the proposed meeting in 2011, a Guardian columnist reported that an unnamed “ally” of Thatcher threw cold water on the idea that the Iron Lady would ever take tea with the Mama Grizzly.
TIMELINE: Thatcher's remarkable life
“Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin,” the anonymous person sniffed. “That would be belittling to Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.”
Having covered Palin on and off since 2008, I can easily believe that someone uttered those words. Palin is nothing if not polarizing, much like the conservative politicians she venerated, chief among them Reagan and Thatcher.
What I don’t believe is that those words in any way represented Thatcher’s own sentiments. Thatcher may have been too infirm to meet Palin, but hard as it may be for some to stomach, Palin was a potential American presidential contender. And Thatcher had already agreed to meet with her once before.
A former Thatcher aide dismissed the idea that Thatcher had refused to meet with Palin. “She has always warmly welcomed like-minded figures in the United States, and has in the past met with numerous U.S. presidential candidates and political dignitaries when they have visited London,” wrote Nile Gardiner in the Telegraph. “But at the age of 85 she is now able to receive very few visitors at all.”
Even Ann Coulter, according to the Daily Caller, said Thatcher had wanted to meet Palin.
“One thing that I know, because I know people who know [Thatcher], is when Sarah Palin first burst on the scene, she wanted to have a meeting with Palin, because she saw raw political talent, but wanted to teach Sarah Palin to do what she did,” Coulter told Geraldo Rivera on his radio show Monday. One can get lost fantasizing about what Thatcher might have taught Palin.
On her Facebook page Monday, Palin posted a brief tribute to Thatcher. If she felt at all snubbed, she didn’t show it. She included a famous Thatcher quote that shows how much the two brash politicians had in common, at least in one regard: “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not got a single political argument left.”
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