The Limousine Liberal
How an Incendiary Image United the Right and Fractured America
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No political image in recent American history has enjoyed the impact of the "limousine liberal." It has managed to mobilize an enduring politics of resentment directed against everything from civil rights to women's liberation, from the war on poverty to environmental regulation. Coined in 1969 by New York City mayoralty candidate Mario Procaccino, the term took aim at what he and his largely white lower middle class and blue collar following considered the repellent hypocrisy of well-heeled types who championed the cause of the poor, especially the black poor, but who had no intention of bearing the costs of their plight. The metaphor zeroed in on liberal elites who preferred to upset rather than defend the status quo not only in race relations, but in the sexual, moral, and religious order and had little interest in looking after the needs of working people.
In The Limousine Liberal, the acclaimed historian Steve Fraser argues that it is impossible to understand American politics without coming to grips with this image, where it originated, why it persists, and where it may be taking us. He reveals that the limousine liberal had existed in all but name long before Procaccino gave it one. From Henry Ford decrying an improbable alliance of Jews, bankers, and Bolsheviks in the 1920s to the Tea Party's vehement hatred of Hillary Clinton, the fear of the limousine liberal has stoked right-wing populism for nearly a century. Today it fuses together disparate elements of the conservative movement. Sunbelt entrepreneurs on the rise, blue collar ethnics and middle classes in decline, heartland evangelicals, and billionaire business dynasts have found common cause, despite their real differences, in shared opposition to liberal elites.
The Limousine Liberal tells an extraordinary story of why the most privileged and powerful elements of American society were indicted as subversives and reveals the reality that undergirds that myth. It goes to the heart of the great political transformation of the postwar era: the rise of the conservative right and the unmaking of the liberal consensus.