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The Tea Party and the Other Temptation

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If there's anything that the group of Republican candidates that are associated with the Tea Party have in common, it is in their implicit and explicit calls for the American people to - at all costs - avoid temptation.

Whether it's Christine O'Donnell's anti-masturbation, anti-sex, and anti-gay campaign; or Carl Paladino's experimentation with homophobia; or Sharron Angle's call for the American people to do without unemployment insurance, or for rape and incest victims to endure a forced pregnancy and childbirth; or the bizarre repeated call by Tea Partiers for Democrats to "Man up" - Tea Party candidates seem to be fans of the proverbial stiff upper lip.

But there's another temptation that Tea Party types are all too ready to succumb to - the temptation to stereotype, in combination with other self-serving perceptual errors and biases.

The field of social cognition has painstakingly demonstrated how many of the unfortunate conclusions human beings jump to, are built-in byproducts of our brains' limited ability to process information. As a result, it can be oh, so tempting to stereotype people from different ethnic groups as all being alike in certain ways. This, of course, makes it easier to blame an entire ethnic group for the acts of a few if their members. It's also tempting to see others as acting according to their basic dispositions, while we see ourselves as acting in response to a situation. If the act of another is followed by bad outcomes, we are more likely to blame the other person, than if the outcomes are mild. And we also tend towards exaggerating the frequency of a certain type of event - say, a plane crash - that gets more news media attention, relative to other events - say, a car accident.

All these overwhelming temptations have a led to a series of Tea Party inspired fits of rage, that have divided the electorate and taken us back to an uglier time.

Take, for instance, the uproar over the proposed Muslim Community Center a few blocks from "ground zero" in New York City. This issue has divided left and right, with plenty of input from Tea Party protesters and leaders chiming in to paint all Muslims as terrorists. One such protester said to "New Left Media," "I learned all I need to know about Islam on 9/11." The temptation to see all Muslims as alike, and blame all Muslims for the acts of the 9/11 terrorists is one the Tea Party sees no need to resist.

Sharron Angle's ads depicting menacing Latinos, in contrast to innocent white victims, feeds into more temptation. Her recent comment to a Latino student group, that some of them looked "a little Asian" to her, only added fuel to the fire, and attested to the laziness of her own thinking.

Carl Paladino's racist e-mails depicting the President and First Lady as a pimp and a prostitute, are certainly another example; as are the strong influence of "birtherism" in the Tea Party, merging Obama's race, his father's nationality, and his worldly childhood into a general knee-jerk accusation of "otherness." Tom Tancredo's disdain for Hispanic voters, and his call for the equivalent of voting literacy tests is another.
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And of course, the ginning up of fears about immigration - including Jan Brewer's bizarre claim of headless corpses - exaggerates an illegal immigration problem that is actually improving.

Recently, Rachel Maddow argued persuasively that the Republican Party - often through Tea Party candidates - is replaying the "southern strategy" of 1964, through a series of racially charged comments. She includes Republican Senatorial candidate in West Virginia John Raese's intentional, mocking, mispronunciation of ethnic last names, calling Energy Secretary Chu,"Dr. Chow Mein," as well as New York Republican Congressional candidate Jim Russell, who expressed grave concerns on MSNBC's Donahue Show about whites being outnumbered in America's future.

It's too bad that, with all their moral stoicism, the Tea Party Republicans have allowed themselves to give in to another - more consequential - temptation.

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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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Dear 9/11 Truthers:Yes, I know. You don't believe ... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Thursday, Oct 28, 2010 at 4:27:24 PM
And we know we're all hopelessly feeble-minded for... by Perry Logan on Friday, Oct 29, 2010 at 5:53:09 AM
1. Your comment about 9/11 truthers here has nothi... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Oct 29, 2010 at 7:14:45 AM
Mark;You misunderstand me, & also make huge as... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Friday, Oct 29, 2010 at 10:42:07 AM
The system does not seem to allow long comments, I... by Mark Sashine on Friday, Oct 29, 2010 at 1:46:30 PM
Thank you.... by Amy Fried, Ph.D. on Friday, Oct 29, 2010 at 2:10:29 PM
The saddest part about the Tea Party is that we, a... by E.David Ferriman on Friday, Oct 29, 2010 at 8:48:44 AM