Saturday, May 19, 2007
The People's Prime Minister
I am not at all familiar with the way British politics works, so I suppose it's quite possible that I may someday find that I am here paying tribute to the wrong man politically. But in any case, on the gut level I have found much in the leadership of the Right Honorable Tony Blair that is honorable and right. Gordon Brown will have a tough act to follow this June.
I watched The Queen last night, a film by Stephen Frears released earlier this year, which, by the way, is well worth your time. Helen Mirren's portrayal of Elizabeth II and her struggle with Mr. Blair over the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana is magnificent. (To whet your appetite, click here to view the trailer.) What I also took from the film was a reminder of just how much I have grown to admire Mr. Blair over the years. It was he who first coined the phrase "the People's Princess" with respect to Diana, and it was also he who best interpreted the pulse of the British people in that tragic hour.
To be sure, much about the life of Diana was less than pure, and there was, I recall, a certain warped irony about the way the world doted on her while largely ignoring Mother Teresa who also died that summer of 1997. Nevertheless Diana was larger than life. She was an icon. She was the lovely princess of everyone's childhood fairy tale, and she was a real live person. The paparazzi not only played a central role in causing her death; they also sought to ruin that image England and the world saw in the Princess. It did not matter that she and the Prince were divorced; in fact, since it was in the public view the Prince's fault, she became all the more loved for it. Mr. Blair likely understood all this, so in the hour of her death it was he who was able first to say the right thing at the right time.
And we Americans dare never forget how he stood shoulder to shoulder with us after September 11, 2001, and has not flinched in his loyalty since. Everyone in the world seemed to call himself an American for the next few weeks, but he sank his teeth into that alliance. He dedicated his government's troops to stand beside ours in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and he never wavered in the face of sometimes fierce opposition. You think President Bush has received bad press for Iraq? Mr. Blair's enemies are ten times as vitriolic. But he has always worn his determination on his sleeve, and in being a friend to our President he has been a friend to all Americans, pro- and anti- war alike. I remember reading in National Review shortly after 9-11 an editorial which brought a lump to my throat. It was a grateful American's response to Mr. Blair's staunch support: "We will not forget this, sir." Count me as one who has not forgotten.
So he was a socialist at heart; so he was labor; so he was progressive, whatever all that means. This man has acted with a well-informed conscience in his public life. History should and probably will look on his legacy more kindly than current public opinion does. For the measure of a true leader must be understood in the end to be a measure of leadership, rather than of following public opinion. That is what the people will ultimatly respect and admire. It's why Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan were the 20th century giants they were. Would that all public officials would learn to be so governed by a sense of what is the right thing to do, ever regardless of public opinion.