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.