John Cho and Kal Penn, known the world over as Harold and Kumar, spent yesterday and today touring the state’s colleges on behalf of the Obama reelection campaign. Of the eight stops on the two day tour, Keene was the only location in which the duo appeared together.
Harold and Kumar are an awkward choice for the young face of the Obama campaign. Their characters are a target of forces within the Obama administration which the president has done little to address. Campaigning in 2008, he had said that medicinal cannabis enforcement would be the lowest priority of his law enforcement. Under Obama, the United States has seen an increase in raids of medicinal cannabis clinics as well as increased enforcement against undocumented immigrants. While many expected change, the result was a slightly worse version of the same.
While the most relevant question to ask the duo would have been related to the drug war, since it was a youth symposium, I tied my question in to the disturbing celebration of death accompanied with the killing of much-feared terrorists (Medicinal cannabis raids were the subject of a question asked later in the day at UNH Durham). It seemed to be primarily young people who took to the streets to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden. While there existed a much more understandable blood lust in the United States in the wake of September 11, by the time Bin Laden was executed during a May 2011 raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he had dissolved culturally from a deadly terrorist to a mythical boogieman. Osama Bin Laden was the shady figure hiding behind every suspicious package that caught one’s eye in the post 9/11 world. After ten years, the blood lust had lost its appeal, and Osama’s henchman status withered with it. His assassination could have been a simpler footnote in history were it not a trumpeted achievement of western civilization. One particular curiosity regarding the images of American mobs celebrating the assassination overseas is that the streets are primarily populated with young people. Those present were likely all children during the September 11 attacks.
Aside from the gravity of the question, I was interested in asking what I had because I had heard Kal Penn’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, in which he said, “I’ve worked on a lot of fun movies, but my favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out Bin Laden, and who’s cool with all of us getting gay married.” Whether Kumar wrote those words or not, the idea of considering a hit on someone in a faraway compound something to be proud of is medieval. And so,
Ean: My question deals with the recent increase in power in the executive to do things that historically haven’t been able to be done. My biggest concern is the power of the president to kill people without due process. Do you guys have any concern with the fact that it’s been sort of celebrated, among young people, things like the execution of Osama Bin Laden, the execution of Anwar Al-Awlaki. That, that’s the wrong direction to go in, maybe? Do you guys have a comment on that?
Penn: I don’t have a…
Staffer: Hey guys, if you can — we can help you with that.
Penn: Yeah, do you have policy folks that can…?
Staffer: Yeah, come speak to me afterwards. If you guys have any specific policy questions, come speak to me afterwards, and I can direct you to the right people at the campaign.
Penn: This is what happens when I didn’t work for the national security council is I’m not equipped to answer questions like that. More youth focused stuff is what I work in, so good question.
The next question was predictably the cannabis question. Penn answered honestly that the Obama administration opposes cannabis legalization and that if that’s an important issue for you, neither he nor his red counterpart would be your candidates.
Later in the Q&A, a journalism professor from the college inquired about the campaign’s earlier censorship.
Professor: Today is Constitution day, and so of all days, I would like to encourage you to answer policy questions. I don’t think its appropriate to say my students background — you’re both very intelligent, very well educated, so we don’t want you to feel that your first amendment rights are being violated here on Constitution day. So if students have policy questions, I say let them ask them.
Penn: Sure, no, I don’t think it’s that, I think it’s that we want to make sure that we’re the right folks to answer those questions. If its something like health care, national security, computers…anything math related, I’m not good at, and stuff like financial aid, or don’t ask don’t tell, or those sort of things that—
Prof: Well this questions affects all Americans…
Penn: It does, I’m just not equipped to—
Prof: We still have the right to ask.
Penn: Oh, of course, I hope you didn’t feel like we were cutting down the question, I just want to make sure we get you the right answer to that. And that goes for any policy question.
Given the campaign’s insistence that Harold and Kumar not approach the issue, I’ll look into following up with the individual I was referred to by the campaign to answer policy questions.