Obama taps Kal Penn of 'Harold & Kumar' for convention. Is that wise?

Kal Penn, a star of the drug-befuddled 'Harold & Kumar' films as well as an outreach coordinator for the White House, will host the campaign's live stream of the Democratic convention. 

Jim Young/REUTERS/File
First lady Michelle Obama talks with actor and Obama administration official Kal Penn, the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, as she tours the stage a day before her speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday.

As the Democratic National Convention opens President Obama has a new online ad out that features John Cho and Kal Penn, the actors who’ve portrayed the stoner characters Harold and Kumar in a series of popular films.

What, you’ve never seen “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas”?

Anyway, the spot opens with a serious president making what seems to be a serious phone call. “Hey this is Barack,” Mr. Obama says after the unseen party on the other end picks up. “Listen, I need to know if you’re on board.”

Dramatic music begins to swell in the background. “I’m counting on you. Everybody is,” Obama continues. “We have to get this right there’s a lot at stake here. Just remember that I’m trusting you on this, and I’ll see you there.”

Swipe cut to Harold and Kumar’s litter-strewn living room, where they’re watching cartoons on TV. Kumar, quite, uh, out of it, slowly hangs up the phone.

“Who was that? It sounded intense,” says Harold.

“The president,” says Kumar.

“Sweet,” says Harold, with all the emotional intensity of a zombie.

Then something on the TV screen goes “boing,” the actors laugh at the cartoon, and the ad cuts away to a promotion of the campaign’s live stream of DNC events, which Kal Penn is going to host.

OK, is this really a good idea? Two guys whose most popular roles involve large amounts of illegal drug usage, hooked up with the Obama campaign?

If nothing else it provides an opening for Republicans to raise anew the issue of the president’s own admitted youthful pot usage. And they have. Conservatives say it highlight’s Obama’s “Choom Gang” past, in which he and his friends in Hawaii would drive up into the hills and smoke pot in their cars, according to biographer David Maraniss.

“Who knows, perhaps Obama is hearkening back to the days in his youth when he would sit around blowing ‘smoke rings’ and getting high without a care in the world by tapping the undynamic duo of the current generation as a hook for his speech accepting the Democratic nomination on Thursday night, writes John Rossomando on Red Alert Politics, a website aimed at young conservatives.

Well, we can think of a number of reasons why Obama might do this. First off, Kal Penn works for the Obama administration. He’s been an associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement since 2009. As such, he’s traveled the country selling Obama’s policies to various groups. He’s taken leave to appear in a Harold & Kumar sequel as well as the TV sitcom "How I Met Your Mother."

Second, do we have to point out the generational divide here between Kal Penn and Clint Eastwood? The latter was the RNC’s surprise speaker, and whatever you think of his performance, he appeals to an older demographic than does Penn. The Obama team tries to make its guy look as young and hip as possible, via “slow-jamming” the news on Jimmy Fallon and so forth, and this feeds that effort.

Third, Obama’s been criticized by some liberals for cracking down on medicinal pot dispensaries and in general enforcing the war on drugs. This might be a sly way of winking at those critics. Or something like that.

Anyway, the best part of the ad is that now people will probably compete on Twitter to see who can dream up the best Harold & Kumar policy movie title. “Harold & Kumar Visit an Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Exchange,” anyone?

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