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What is a Limousine Liberal?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 17, 2024

Limousine liberal is a term coined by a New York City mayoral candidate Mario Procaccino, in 1969. He used the term to describe his opposition, John Lindsay, who won the race for mayor. The term limousine liberal referenced Lindsay, and the financial status of many of his supporters. Lindsay was wealthy, and had the backing of numerous wealthy people, hence the term limousine, but was liberal, a leftist in politics, in many of his decisions.

When limousine liberal is used it’s often pejorative because the person claiming to represent the people tends not to have very much in common with the constituency. The person isn’t poor, so any social programs — like the busing that occurred in the 1970s — isn’t likely to affect him or her, since the person can send his or her children to a private school. Some of the programs limousine liberals propose may not require their participation at all, and will only affect people of lower socioeconomic status. For instance, such a person could propose greater funding for schools by raising taxes on lower and middle class folks, and avoid having to pay higher taxes as a member of the upper class or through tax loopholes.

In the starkest cases of limousine liberalism, the person so named expresses deep concern about an issue affecting the world, a specific class of people or otherwise. For instance, a person who supports environmental change and drives an SUV, or really is chauffeured about in a limousine is expressing limousine liberalism to the core. The quote “Do as I say, not as I do” is apropos.

It is not the case that people who support a strong left view of government have to be poor in order to have credibility. Rather, limousine liberals act against their own policies or aren’t affected by the laws they champion. There are plenty of wealthy people who have liberal political views and are willing to back up those views by paying more in taxes instead of demanding tax cuts. For instance, many were surprised by this viewpoint as expressed by Warren Buffett, in Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope. Buffett willingly supports greater taxation for the wealthy in order to support numerous programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. He is not, as described by Obama, a limousine liberal.

Even a show of wealth by a person with leftist views of the government may evoke the title of limousine liberal. When Senator John Edwards campaigned in the Democratic primaries in 2008 on the platform of helping the impoverished and being “one with the poor,” he was roundly criticized as a limousine liberal for getting a $400 US Dollar (USD) haircut. Some believe that this damaged his credibility as the anti-poverty candidate, and claimed he couldn’t possibly represent the poor if he could, without thinking, pay that much for a haircut.

Other related terms to limousine liberal are used in countries outside the US and Canada. In the UK for instance, the pejorative term may be champagne socialist. In France, caviar left (gauche caviar) is used.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon239366 — On Jan 08, 2012

After reading both the Limousine Liberal selection and the IOKIYAR selection, and being myself a far-left-wing supporter, I must say that I felt them both to be relatively fair.

While I might wish the Limousine Liberal article had more examples to put the two on a closer playing ground, I can't be offended by the nature of pointing out hypocrisy where it exists in either political party, despite my own personal beliefs. In this, I hope you all may have a little patience and understanding that the authors are doing the best they can, and presenting the information as best they know how, and you must put your own personal viewpoints aside when reading something that attempts to strictly state the facts on a delicate issue such as religion or politics.--Nathaniel

By anon127539 — On Nov 16, 2010

Typical right-wing propaganda. If you’re a Democrat, you must be poor, unwilling to work, and waiting for a hand-out. If not, you must be disingenuous. It saddens me that you would show your obvious right-wing slant by fostering this kind of thinking.

If your aim was to offend, you’ve done it. Way to be divisive. This type of one-sided biased article does not make me smarter.

By anon79282 — On Apr 22, 2010

Well of course, there are those who have a team-game mentality when it comes to politics.

Whenever there is anything they can interpret as criticism of their leadership, the messenger/author/etc will be insulted, generalisations about the "other team" will be spewed, a bunch of people will pin the "socialism" label on liberals as if it's a bad thing!, everyone except themselves will be to blame including the "liberal media" (ie. all media except Fox News) and outrage will predictably ensue.

Fortunately, most of them aren't like that but with Fox News propaganda putting partisan blinkers on all who trust them, they're bound to push a few fringe lunatics to the point of insanity -- and those few will explode if they think anyone is criticizing "their team," even when their team's leadership really is full of corrupt sleazebags.

By anon62609 — On Jan 27, 2010

It's kind of funny how on the IOKIYAR article, none of the guys complaining there even spoke up here, nor did anyone else even comment. Guess you guys showed them something to keep them quiet, lol.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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