What's the deal with Howard Dean?


Few politicians are siding with the students and faculty of the University of California-Berkeley who want to exclude the conservative commentator Ann Coulter from speaking on their campus, but former Vermont governor Howard Dean is stepping into the void.

He probably should have thought it through a little more.

Dean tweeted this on Thursday night:

This is just flat wrong, for the many reasons laid out Friday morning by the Volokh Conspiracy:

There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn, for instance, Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal immigrants, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or socialism or Democrats or Republicans. As the Supreme Court noted in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (2010), “this Court’s tradition of ‘protect[ing] the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate”” includes the right to express even “discriminatory” “viewpoint[s].” (The quote comes from the four liberal justices, plus Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, but the four more conservative justices would have entirely agreed with this, though also extended it to university-recognized student groups’ freedom to exclude members, and not just their freedom to express their thoughts.)

In his post, Eugene Volokh goes on to note that certain forms of what could be described as “hate speech,” including fighting words and incitement of illegal acts, are not protected. But those are much more narrowly defined. The Supreme Court has weighed in repeatedly on the side of speech like Coulter’s — whether you call it hate speech or anything else — being protected, no matter how crass.

Thursday’s curious tweet is just the latest from the former presidential hopeful and DNC chairman. There was that time during the 2016 campaign when Dean accused Donald Trump, who professes to have never drunk alcohol or smoked, of being on cocaine.

Dean provided no evidence besides Trump’s repeated sniffling during a debate. Former Obama adviser David Axelrod was among those who suggested that Dean had gone off the deep end.

Despite the criticism, Dean initially doubled down on his assertion, suggesting it was a question worth asking. “Look, do I think at 70 years old he has a cocaine habit? Probably not,” Dean said. “But you know, it’s something I think it’d be interesting to ask him and see if he has a problem with that.”

Yes, Dean actually said that. Perhaps it could be understood as a Trump-ian/Harry Reid-ian baseless accusation to inject an attack into a presidential campaign — all being fair in love and war, etc., etc. — but it was mostly just bizarre.

Then he made it even stranger when he ultimately apologized. Dean made clear he wasn’t apologizing to Trump but was apologizing for making an “innuendo.”

“I would be very willing to apologize, not to Donald Trump, but I don’t think using innuendo is a good thing,” Dean said.

Except that it wasn’t innuendo. Innuendo implies something that isn’t clearly stated; Dean came right out and said Trump might have been using cocaine.

Dean had another odd Twitter moment (on an admittedly smaller scale) two days ago, when he endorsed leftist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron ahead of Sunday’s elections and then apparently withdrew the endorsement just four minutes later.

Dean got a bad rap for his “Dean scream” during his presidential campaign back in 2004. It sounded much worse on a microphone than it did in the room, and 13 years later it still paints an all-too-easy picture of an unstable politician who cracked under pressure and is prone to flying off the handle.

Given that backdrop, Dean would probably be better served by being more careful about weighing into the major political debates of the day. Or better yet, he might just want to #NeverTweet.

Here’s former presidential contender Howard Dean’s shouty performances in 2004 and 2016 side by side. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Pool)



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