Actor Turns to Politics

Kalpen Modi, aka Kal Penn, is known for his roles in cult classic films like National Lampoon’s Van Wilder and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Lesser known is the fact that Penn started working with President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007. In 2009, he left a high-profile acting job on the hugely popular television show House when offered a position as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

As a result, Penn is not just a celebrity who supports Obama; he’s actually had a hand in helping shape the current administration, and has watched it evolve from the inside. When he visited the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on September 14, his celebrity helped fill the Roast Coffee Company with students, but his knowledge of the Obama administration kept them there.

Penn started off by appealing to students’ financial needs. He explained that he first decided to support the Obama campaign in 2007 when he saw the issues his friends were going through with the financial burden of attending college. He also described a time when he says Obama stood up to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner in order to keep a tax credit for college students Obama had promised during his campaign.

A student’s question about Obama’s stance on marijuana drew a laugh from the audience, due to Penn’s association with the Harold and Kumar film series. Penn advised the student that Obama is against the legalization of marijuana, and that the question of medical marijuana was handled at the state level.

Other questions ranged from why Obama didn’t use his executive powers to pass the Dream Act supporting the families of illegal immigrants (Penn explained that it is in the best interest of a bill to try to pass it through legislation before making an executive order) to racial equality (Obama is focused on equal rights for all people regardless of race, gender).

The questions reflected a student body interested in social issues, equal rights and gathering information to make an informed choice on Election Day.