If he had actually compared them to the KKK, then yes it would be unacceptable. However, he said "the tea party is no more popular than the KKK", not that they were like the KKK. There's a significant difference. If I say Elmo is no more popular than peanut butter, that doesn't mean I think Elmo and peanut butter are alike, it just means they are both similar in how popular they are.
No, because they stand for totally different things. When you compare any group to Nazis of the KKK or whatever using any terms, even if you're just talking about popularity, you immediately imply that the two are a like - when strictly speaking you aren't. The Tea Party would actually have to be a racist movement for it to be even remotely comparable to the KKK.
You analysis is well presented, but I wonder if you might consider the implications of systemic and latent racism versus overt racism. Sure, the Tea Party isn't as physically violent as the KKK but their socioeconomic politics entrench class inequalities that fall disproportionately along lines of race. I think that is something of a stretch, but I am simply curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. I think considering not only the difference in type of racism but also the variation in intentionality makes for interesting philosophical discourse.
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