Celebs Out For Obama

This story was written by Liz Navratil, The Pitt News
For those college students who buy into the school of thought that says their demographic is a politically skeptical and apathetic one, Kal Penn proposes something to ponder.

Penn, who played Kumar in the "Harold and Kumar" movies pointed out to 100 or so students Saturday evening that young voters have generated billions of dollars for companies like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

This, he said, should convince them that their votes in the 2008 presidential primaries and subsequent election will make a difference.

"This is wealth our generation has collectively amassed for our peers, by tagging photos and messaging," Penn said. "If we can amass this wealth for our peers, think about what we can do for the election."

He spoke in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room Saturday evening along with Zachary Quinto, who plays the villain Sylar on the NBC show "Heroes," and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Pitt alumnus Michael Chabon.

All three are touring to support voter registration and Democratic candidate Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

"I've been so inspired by you, by the people that I've met along [the Obama campaign trail]," Quinto said.

"The intelligence, the inspiration, the insight [from] the young people. I don't want to do anything else for a while," he said.

Quinto spoke in the Union once on Friday night and once on Saturday night.

Today is the deadline to register for the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Because it is a closed primary, voters must be affiliated with a party to vote.

"All three of us are less interested in telling you who to vote for than we are in telling you to vote," Quinto said.

"No, I want to tell them to vote for Obama," Penn said.

Penn said he supports Obama for several reasons. He told a story of a friend who was struggling to pay for college. One day, Penn's friend got a call from Halliburton. The company offered him $90,000 to drive a truck in Iraq for one year. It was this or minimum wage."I remember thinking it was a sad day when America could only offer someone who wants to go to college two things: minimum wage and $90,000," Penn said.

"We've proven the cynics wrong. I hope you'll do this for people like my friend in Texas, who turned down that job at Halliburton and is still making minimum wage," he added.

According to Obama's campaign website, the Illinois senator hopes to create the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a "universal and fully refundable credit [that] will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students."

Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton hopes to "create a new $3,500 college tax credit, increase the maximum Pell Grant, strengthen community colleges through a $500 million investment [and] create a graduation fund to increase college graduation rates," among other things, according to her campaign website.

Both Penn and Chabon said Obama's 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention also caught their attention.

Penn said he heard a portion of the speech and thought, "Who is this guy who has big ears, and why should I vote for him for president?"

Chabon said his wife attended law school with Obama, and the senator's speech "rekindled" the couple's interest in him.

Chabon, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., worked for the Obama campaign in California, and his wife, writer Ayelet Waldman, worked for the campaign in Nevada, South Carolina and Texas.

The author said he loves the idea of being able to support a andidate who he thinks is great writer.

"I picked up his first book," Chabon said. "It's beautifully written. It was the ideas and the mind that was revealed [that drew me to him]."

Quinto, who called Obama the "last true hope for this wounded and politically divided country," said Obama does not accept donations from special-interest groups, and if elected, he refuses to have a lobbyist in the White House. "The only people he's going to owe [favors to] are the American people, not the people who are supporting corporate politics," Quinto said in an interview with WPTS radio.

According to Clinton's campaign website, the New York senator has a plan to increase government transparency, which includes "banning Cabinet officials from lobbying a Hillary Clinton administration."

Quinto said he also supports Obama because of the way he's handled campaign scandals. He suggested that the media draws too much attention to mudslinging and that it makes him "want to projectile vomit."

"It's so sensationalized," he added. "We're out of control. This culture is out of control."

Instead of relying on the media, Quinto suggests that voters watch debates, listen to speeches and visit candidates' websites.

Some students appreciated the celebrities' visit and said they enjoyed the message they brought.

"I really admire what they're doing, especially Kal Penn," said Pitt freshman Sisi Liu, an Australian citizen who added that even though she can't vote, the election still affects her. "They're standing for a person who's actually trying to bring something different."

Others didn't come to hear about Obama, but rather to see the celebrities. Pitt senior Marc Shatzman, a Clinton supporter, said he has already voted via absentee ballot and that he came to Friday night's event in hopes of getting Quinto to autograph his "Heroes" season one DVD.

"I believe Obama would be great for change," Shatzman said. "I just don't see him as a unifying force for the Democratic party."

Some Republicans said they attended because they wanted to see the celebrities and because they wanted to get different perspectives on Obama.

"It's really funny because people are so divided," Pitt freshman Rachel Feinstein, a registered Republican, said. "Everyone's fighting amongst each other, between the Hillary and Obama supporters, and they should be fighting for the causes."
© 2008 The Pitt News via U-WIRE