During visit, Kal Penn shares Obama’s message
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Kal Penn is well known in the Hollywood arena as one of the stars of the “Harold and Kumar” movie series, as well as for his characters on TV shows “House” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Yesterday, however, he was at UNH to promote a different facet of his life, as he spoke in the Strafford Room as an advocate for the Obama campaign.
Penn, a registered independent, started volunteering for Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2007. Previous to this endeavor, he had not been politically involved. He became inspired when he noticed the struggles that his friends were going through; several had been discharged from the military due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and another, according to Penn, had to “choose between buying eyeglasses to see the board or buying books for the semester.”
“There was also a writer’s strike in Hollywood that year, so there wasn’t much work,” Penn joked.
The actor relocated to campaign in Iowa for what he thought would be a short period of time, but he ended up staying there for three months, he said. After his work in Iowa, he was asked if he wanted to do youth outreach in the White House, and Penn said he jumped at the opportunity.
Through his experience in the White House, Penn said he learned firsthand what the president is really like.
“All that stuff you see on TV about Obama is true,” Penn told students. “He’s funny, he’s genuine.”
Penn said one day, he and his intern ran into the president for the first time in the halls of the White House. Penn and his staff had been tirelessly working for the past several months on seeing an executive order through, and the actor explained to Obama exactly what they had been doing. They had been given the assignment months ago, and Penn said he tried to refresh the president’s memory.
“He said to me, ‘I remember exactly what that is. I’m really glad we’re doing this, because it’s the right thing to do,’” Penn recalled. “There were no journalists, no press. The Secret Service men were all the way down the hall.”
Penn expressed his admiration for how genuine the president was, in this instance and in several others. He also listed several of the positive changes that he believes Obama has made throughout his term, including repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” creating (and sustaining) the American Opportunity Tax Credit, doubling Pell Grants and other financial aid to subsidize education, creating thousands of jobs, and making the United States more competitive in the global market.
“My friend graduated from the Marine Corps, and he was able to invite his boyfriend to the graduation. That could not have happened before,” Penn said.
After Penn spoke, students were given the opportunity to ask questions. The obvious subject of marijuana legalization was brought up, due to the “stoner” character that Penn portrays in the “Harold and Kumar” films. Penn said that cannabis issues were not his primary political concern.
When asked what, in his opinion, was the No. 1 reason students should vote for Obama, he answered that the top two things were jobs and equality.
Penn explained that, in terms of jobs, it’s not always about the numbers. He said that Obama worked to bring back outsourced jobs and to make America more competitive, and also enhanced public-private partnerships.
“That’s the part that you don’t hear about,” Penn said. “But he basically pulled us back from the brink of the worst depression since the Great Depression.”
Equality, which is “intimately tied to education,” is also an important factor, according to Penn.
“For Americans under 40, there is overwhelming support for equality. How you vote depends on whether you want to see it [equality] be rolled back, or whether you want to have that change for your kids,” Penn said.
Penn also noted that the stakes are high, and that Republicans seek to repeal a lot of what Obama has accomplished.
Students responded well to Penn’s presentation and, afterward, gathered for a group picture on stage, hoping to snag a handshake or a personal picture.
“I thought he was super informative, and it was cool to see the other side of him because I’ve only ever seen him on TV and in the movies,” junior Ben Chiampa said.
Maria Carrasquillo, the president of the UNH College Democrats, was pleased with how the event panned out.
“The presidential campaign has ways to get surrogate speakers out,” Carrasquillo said. “We wanted someone young and relevant. We were given a list of options, and Kal Penn was available.”
Students were curious to see where Penn’s career path would lead him next.
“I’m thankful that you’ve all watched enough of my stuff that I can keep making terrible movies,” Penn said.