Limousine Liberal


radical chic

Limousine liberal is a pejorative American political term used to illustrate perceived hypocrisy by a political liberal of upper class or upper middle class status; including calls for the use of mass transit while frequently using limousines or private jets, claiming environmental consciousness but driving low MPG sports cars or SUVs, or ostensibly supporting public education while actually sending their children to private schools.

Democratic New York City mayoral hopeful Mario Procaccino coined the term to describe incumbent Republican Mayor John Lindsay and his wealthy Manhattan backers during a heated 1969 campaign.

It was a populist/producerist epithet, carrying an implicit accusation that the people it described were insulated from all negative consequences of their programs purported to benefit the poor, and that the costs and consequences of such programs would be borne in the main by working class or lower middle class people who were not so poor as to be beneficiaries themselves. In particular, Procaccino criticized Lindsay for favoring unemployed blacks over working-class ethnic whites.

One Procaccino campaign memo attacked ‘rich super-assimilated people who live on Fifth Avenue and maintain some choice mansions outside the city and have no feeling for the small middle class shopkeeper, home owner, etc. They preach the politics of confrontation and condone violent upheaval in society because they are not touched by it and are protected by their courtiers.’ ‘The Independent’ later stated that ‘Lindsay came across as all style and no substance, a ‘limousine liberal’ who knew nothing of the concerns of the same ‘Silent Majority’ that was carrying Richard Nixon to the White House at the very same time.’

In the 1970s, the term was applied to wealthy liberal supporters of open-housing and forced school busing who didn’t make use of public schooling. In Boston, supporters of busing, such as Senator Ted Kennedy, sent their children to private schools or lived in affluent suburbs. To some South Boston residents, Kennedy’s support of a plan that ‘integrated’ their children with blacks and his apparent unwillingness to do the same with his own children, was hypocrisy.

By the late 1990s and early 21st century, the term has also come to be applied to those who support environmentalist or ‘green’ goals, such as mass transit, yet drive large SUVs or literally have a limousine and driver. The Weekly Standard applied the term to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) for being ‘routinely chauffeured the one short block to work–in a government car, by a member of her staff, at the taxpayers’ expense.’ Al Gore is often called a Limousine Liberal for his use of private jet planes and SUVs, while giving speeches telling Americans must cut back on their lifestyles. Gore responding by saying that he buys carbon offsets to reduce his impact.

In Australia and New Zealand, a roughly equivalent insult of ‘chardonnay socialist’; in the United Kingdom phrases such as ‘champagne socialist,’ ‘Hampstead liberal’ and ‘Bollinger Bolshevik’ are preferred, and in France such people are referred to as the ‘gauche caviar’ (‘caviar left’). In Portugal ‘Esquerda caviar’is used, basically a direct translation of the French term. In Germany ‘Toskana Fraktion’ is used. In Italy, the term ‘radical chic’ (borrowed from American journalist Tom Wolfe’s satirical 1970 book ‘Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers’) is used. In Turkey they are known as ‘freshwater socialists’ who promote downgrading of personal lifestyles for the sake of people while they act the opposite. The adjective of ‘freshwater’ is also used for people who promotes concepts when they are popular and blame the same concepts while they are not as popular as it used to be.

In the Netherlands, a near equivalent of ‘limousine liberal’ would be ‘salon socialist.’ The point of a salon socialist, however, is not that he does not spend money charitably, but rather that he or she is too high to be actively involved in the class struggle. Charity is seen as a capitalist and conservative project, because it leaves the alleged social structures of hegemony intact, and would even reinforce them (by making the poor dependent on the rich). Charity also implies that mandatory taxation is not needed, or need not collect sufficient funds.

In Poland, the rough equivalent of this term is ‘coffee shop revolutionist’ meaning a journalist, poet or any other intellectual who criticizes capitalism and free market mechanisms in his/her publications, but has generally weak understanding of economy because of living in the ivory tower of salon life, so he/she has no idea about the real life of the poor.

In Japan, the rough equivalent of this term is ‘Botchan Sayoku’ (‘leftist from rich family who is ignorant of the real world’). Yukio Hatoyama, former Japanese Prime Minister, is by some considered to be a ‘Botchan Sayoku.’

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