In today’s media, you would be hard pressed to find a “working-class liberal.” Invoking the word “liberal” is more likely to fill the political imagination with Swedish cars, unpronounceable coffee drinks, and fine wine, than down-home folks. There are, of course, blue-collar conservatives and Reagan Democrats by the truckload in American political discourse, but seemingly very few wage earners who might consider themselves to the left of whatever passes for the center these days. While the reality is much more complex than the rhetoric, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has shown, the term liberal in contemporary political discourse is currently reserved for everything that the working class is not.
Spilled across the title pages of progressive journals are demands for a new New Deal, a global New Deal, a New and Improved Deal, a reNewed Deal, and even New Deal 2.0. After Obama’s election, political cartoons—most notably, but not exclusively, on the cover of Time magazine—featured a jubilant, toothy Barack Obama with a cigarette holder, posing confidently in an open limousine à la FDR. Elsewhere, otherwise sober commentators began speaking of “Franklin Delano Obama.”