Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Thursday that some members of his party are "demonizing" opponents of the Lower Manhattan mosque.

Dean — who surprised many political observers this week by saying that the planners should move the location of the planned Islamic center — targeted Democrats and Republicans in an interview with MSNBC. 

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"I don't think — I honestly — I think some of my own folks at my end of the spectrum of the party are demonizing some fairly decent people who are opposed to this," he said. "And again, in no way am I defending the right-wing of the Republican Party. Sixty-five percent of the people in this country are not right-wing bigots. Some of them really have deep emotional feelings about this."

The 2004 presidential candidate's comments come as the mosque issue has become part of the national debate, after President Obama chimed in last week.

Obama said last Friday night that the planners of the Islamic center have the right to construct the facility, but said the next day he was not commenting on the "wisdom" of the particular location of the building.

An Islamic group called the Cordoba Initiative wants to build the facility, which includes a mosque, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which as ignited a political firestorm. Some Republicans, who largely oppose the mosque, have used Dean's comments as a political cudgel against Democrats.

But Dean also fired back at the GOP, which he accused of using the mosque issue disingenuously, saying the "Sarah Palins and the Newt Gingriches ... are exploiting this for whatever political gain they can get out of it."

Dean called for a "thoughtful, reasonable dialogue about this" while comparing it to the debate in Vermont over legalizing same-sex marriage that occurred when he was governor.

"Look, these folks have a right to build this. And they have a right to do this where they are about to build it," he said. "I think this may be a teachable moment, I really do."

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