President Obama is famed for his ability to reach out to young voters. He does this, in part, by not adhering to the norms of what presidents are "supposed" to do — he realizes that a significant chunk of the emerging voting bloc likes a sense of humor and irreverence.
Kal Penn is a great and funny actor and all-around smart guy. He went from making stoner comedies to working with the White House and back and back again. It's encouraging to me that someone with his political chops hasn't been blacklisted because of his alleged ties to drugs and/or R-rated career. Come to think of it, I also feel that way about Obama and his two predecessors (yes, even Dubya, though he should have been disqualified for other reasons, like incompetence).
Obama and Penn have teamed up for a Democratic Convention promo that's as funny as it is audacious:
After watching this spot, I wasn't surprised to see numerous comments on the related Huffington Post article criticizing it. Many didn't get the reference and/or thought it was a Republican attack ad decrying young Obama voters as stoners. Others were familiar with the "Harold & Kumar" trilogy but thought the association might hurt the president. The overall trend I noticed is best encapsulated in the back-to-back comments in the below screen grab:
A generation gap is definitely evident in the reception of this video. Whether or not it's a function of literal age is up for debate, but it definitely involves how campaigns were run in the past versus today. Cheech and Chong would never have done an ad like this with a sitting president. Hell, we had to wait until 1992 for a presidential candidate to admit he smoked pot in the 1960s, and have it not torpedo his candidacy right then and there. And Obama was the first to be able to say he inhaled, because "that was the point."
I applaud this progress, slow as it is, and I'm not even a stoner. And it's precisely because I'm not a stoner that I think a larger issue is at stake here. Namely, stupid shit. We all do it over the courses of our lives. As long as what we're doing isn't harming anybody and we learn a lesson from it, we are willing to let it go and/or learn from it. But we are deliberately not understanding about it with regard to others. In the past, the big Stupid Shit was drug use, especially trying pot. That was the big point-and-shriek. In the 1980s, every politician got asked if they ever tried pot during their coming-of-age years (often in the 1960s, for Christ's sake) as if that meant anything.
Yes, drug use is bad. But these days, few freak out over someone trying pot. And of those who get addicted to harder drugs, we aim to help rather than condemn. (Not always, of course, but the shift toward understanding in the last 30 years is undeniable.)
(Anyway, the "Harold & Kumar" movies are barely about pot; all pot does is keep the plot going. If anything, the films show that the duo has all of their stupidest ideas when high, and makes fun of stoners' fetish for the leaf. Also, anyone who's seen the films knows they're not stoned in the ad.)
Social media is now the Stupid Shit over which we obsess. Those debauched pictures and spur-of-the-moment status updates from years long past are what prudes will use in the future to sink promising candidates (probably while ignoring the genuine homophobic slurs their still-homophobic candidate spewed on their own page).
The point is, Obama has shattered the paradigm that a president has to have only a sterile, polished, no-risk persona. Many voters, especially young ones, like a president who is equally at ease running the country and playing to his genuine youth appeal. I hope that paradigm change is here to stay. I have a feeling it is.