Howard Dean, paragon of First Amendment defense

You can argue with a straight face that Howard Dean was one scream away from the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.  As it stands, he has parlayed his high-profile also-ran status into a bit of cult following along the outer rims of leftist thought.  More conventionally, Dean was once chairman of the Democratic National Committee and governor of Vermont.  With that kind of résumé, you would think Dean would have a better handle on our foundational legal document.

In a tweet last week, reacting to controversial conservative Ann Coulter, Dean said, "Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment."

Hoo, boy.  Where do I start?

We are familiar with what has been going on in Berkeley, California this year.  The birthplace of the modern-day Free Speech movement has become Ground Zero for the "anti-hate speech" movement.  It is Coulter's on-again, off-again speaking engagement next week that prompted Dean's disturbing tweet.  We all saw what happened when Milo Yiannapoulos tried to speak there in February.  I had hoped the violence and lawlessness over nothing more than someone wanting to speak on campus would have been one of those rare instances that united the left and right.  Not on the level of 9-11, of course...but something everyone could agree was wrong and should not be repeated.  I have been disappointed.

Perhaps even worse are those who side with the rioters under the aegis of moral superiority.  The argument is amazing in its syllogistic simplicity.  First, you claim the right to assault a "Nazi" or anyone else who promotes "hate speech."  Then you classify everyone who disagrees with you as a Nazi.  By your twisted logic, that gives you the moral right to assault anyone you disagree with.

Do you really want to go there?  Seriously?  Decent people are not going to let you get away with that.

In this polarized, binary debate climate we've created, people have completely lost the ability to distinguish disagreement from hate.  Perhaps they do recognize the difference but choose to ignore it in order to advance their views.  Both scenarios are unacceptable if we are to remain a free society.

Think of it like this.  I despise the people at Westboro Baptist Church and everything they stand for.  They are intentionally provocative and are not a part of any legitimate political and social discourse.  But they have every right to speak.  They have every right to display their despicable signs.  They have every right to say their outrageous phrases.  But I would not support a riot that was designed to shut them down, despite my intense loathing of the group.  Counter-protest them.  Mock them.  Point out the Grand Canyon-sized hole in their logic.  But let them speak.

The people, like Howard Dean, who want to ban "hate speech" also want to be the only ones allowed to define it.  True liberals, like Voltaire, would be aghast at what happened at Cal.  You remember him, right?  "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend forever your right to say it."

As a libertarian, I will fight like hell for the right to have others heard, even if they turn my stomach.  Modern-day progressives will fight like hell to make sure some people are not heard.  Therein lies the fundamental difference.

In the end, Dean is simply the latest liberal to take a most illiberal stance on free speech.  My response to him is the same as others of his ilk.

I will let you ban hate speech if you let me define it.