You know him as the stoner fast-food junkie who got insanely high in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. But “that is an entirely fictitious character that I have very little in common with, in all honesty,” says Kal Penn, just minutes after speaking to students in the Whitten Learning Center last Friday.
As The Miami Hurricane talks and walks with Penn on the way to his car (that’s all the time the Obama campaign says is available), he explains his status as an independent and why be believes Obama has the integrity the United States needs in the White House.
The Miami Hurricane: You’re an independent, but you are supporting Barack Obama and there must be some recognition that part of him being a successful president is contingent upon other Democrats being elected so they can support his initiatives and policy proposals in Congress and across the nation. So does this mean you’re also endorsing the entire Democratic Party and its candidates to ensure that he could be a successful president?
Kal Penn: That’s a good question. We were talking about this earlier, how it looks like if things are going in the direction that the polls are indicating, that you will see a Democratic majority in the Senate. I do think that that’s key to get a lot of policies passed and I will say that while I remain an independent, I’ve been really impressed by the diversity within the Democratic party. And I’m not just talking about racial or ethnic diversity, I’m talking about diversity in representation and the ability that a lot of these folks have to really sit down and work with folks across the aisle. I was disappointed as an independent in the last eight years of failed policies. And if that means that we give it a shot with a full Democratic House, Senate, and presidency, I think it’s worthwhile.
TMH: You say that you’ve never met anyone with more integrity than Barack Obama. What makes you feel this way?
KP: Something that’s always struck me is that people are not the same in public as they are in private. So when the news cameras leave, people in public professions behave a little differently. Barack is the same person in a room full of three people than he is in a stadium of 75,000. I think it’s such a rare quality, and it’s a quality that I think we need in a leader. He resonates so well with people because he is the real deal. Folks who know him and have spent time with him know that what you see is what you get.
TMH: What were your interactions like with him in person? What did you discuss with him?
KP: I haven’t spent any great lengths of time with him. I started volunteering for the campaign back in Iowa. I remember the night that he won the Iowa caucus. There was a small group of us backstage before he made that historic speech. I just went up and said, ‘Senator, congratulations. The college students actually came out and voted.’ With tears in his eyes, he said, ‘I’m so proud of them… This is something that’s going to be with them for the rest of their lives. No matter who they vote for in years to come, they’ve begun some sort of action.’
TMH: Speaking of college students, why is it important to you that they vote for Barack Obama?
KP: To start off, there’s a $4,000 tax credit that he’s proposing. If you look at student loans, especially privatized student loans, and the way that has gone, it’s something that makes college unaffordable for a lot of folks. We’ve got friends who are fighting over in Iraq. Barack was opposed to the Iraq War from the beginning, which means he’s got the judgment to know how to bring our friends home and solve that crisis. The way the gas prices are going – $4 a gallon. I don’t think we can afford someone who’s got tax breaks for huge oil companies without any regard for working class families or college students.