Back then, conservatives played the identity game gingerly, as if they were slightly embarrassed. But they have since learned to make the most of it. The most recent and regrettable example is Sarah Palin, lustily cheered by Republican audiences last year not because she had the credentials and ability to step into the presidency, but because she was the Right Kind of Person.
First, she was a woman, picked to attract disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters, as Palin shamelessly highlighted: "Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
Second, she was not one of those effete urban elitists but a real American -- small-town girl, beauty queen, hockey mom, "Bible-believing Christian" (as she put it), mother of five and moose hunter.
Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., said she was controversial because "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." Palin herself celebrated her brethren from small towns, which she called "all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."
Of course it's useful to include the perspective of small-town residents in formulating policy, just as it's a good idea to consider the impact of laws on Latinos. But to imagine that either group -- or any group -- has a unique claim to wisdom or goodness is only to prove that no group is immune to foolishness.
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