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
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT