My one-foot response to this is to immediately assume writers like Dowd have never been to a single tea party or met a single Republican protester over the course of the past year. I don't doubt that some racists exist among the tea partiers. But I've been to at least twenty of these protests, and spoken with dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals. None of the people I've spoken with have carried racist views. I've seen a few racist signs. But those individuals most definitely do not represent any significant percentage of actual tea party protesters.
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