Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Rand Paul, a civil liberties hero and civil rights villain

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: Rand Paul deserves credit for his filibuster on drone policy issues
  • Jones says Paul spoke out against excessive executive power and for civil liberties
  • He says the Kentucky senator is completely wrong on civil rights, abortion, entitlements
  • Jones: Progressives can salute Paul's filibuster even as they disagree with his other views

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy.

(CNN) -- Yes, I said it, and I will say it again: On Wednesday night, Sen. Rand Paul was a hero for civil liberties.

I love and respect President Obama, and I was honored to work for the Obama White House. That said, the executive branch of the United States government today has an extraordinary level of power. Progressives like Rep. Keith Ellison and conservatives like Paul can all agree it has a disturbing license to wage a never-ending, ill-defined, even un-defined "war on terror," including the use of drones.

I applaud Rand Paul for standing up and calling attention to an important and vexing set of questions.

Van Jones
Van Jones

Now, let me say to my conservative friends: Do not get too excited. I still believe Paul is as much a villain on civil rights as he was a hero this week on civil liberties.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s successful strategy was to force the federal government to intercede not just with states, but also private businesses that denied equal treatment. Paul would have robbed King's strategy of its teeth, because he does not believe the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government the right to protect individuals from racial discrimination in the marketplace. In fact, he once said businesses should be able to turn people away based on the color of their skin.

Also, please do not get me started on his votes against the Violence Against Women Act. Nor on his opposition to a woman's right to make private medical decisions. Nor on his desire to cut Social Security and Medicare, while preserving tax loopholes for the wealthiest people ever born.

But we cannot be so balkanized as a nation that we refuse to say "well done," when someone does right, even if we disagree on everything else. We are bigger than that.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The idea of using military drones inside U.S. borders should trigger concern and scrutiny from all points on the political spectrum.

To my progressive friends: The argument should not be whether we trust THIS president not to abuse that kind of authority. The next president might. If a GOP president refused to rule out killing U.S. citizens on U.S. soil without due process, we progressives would be marching down the street.

We must be vigilant and consistent. There is a risk that any White House will develop delusions about its own power. The amount of information that top officials get is so overwhelming, and the level of responsibility so crushing, that there is always the temptation to think, "We know more than the public."

It is a shame that it was Rand Paul, not progressives and liberals in the Senate, who led this filibuster.

Not only that, we can admire that Paul used the filibuster the way it should be used. He did not simply stick a Post-it note on a door somewhere and leave town, solely to gum up the government. Too many Republicans have done that during this president's time in office.

He said that this is an important issue, and we should be talking about it more -- repeatedly, for 13 hours. That's not a stunt. That's the way the filibuster is supposed to work. If you want to see a stunt, pay more attention to the excessive abuse of the filibuster over the last four years.

Fortunately, Attorney General Eric Holder sent Paul a commendable letter ruling out strikes on noncombatant Americans on U.S. soil. But at the end of the day, I still do not believe the American public has a clear understanding of the extent and limits of the drone program.

For example, what about Americans overseas -- and what about the hundreds of innocent civilian lives lost to terrifying drone strikes around the world? Getting rid of unilateral kill lists will not elevate our moral position if we continue to be responsible for innocent deaths.

In addition to the lives lost, we inflict tremendous trauma on children who witness these attacks, and unmeasurable psychological damage on parents who never know if this day will be their last. Decent and fair-minded Americans should focus not only on drones that target Americans, but also on drone strikes that shock our conscience.

We need to have a national conversation, and that is what Paul started on Wednesday. No matter what you think of his other views, we can all agree that this conversation cannot end here.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT