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'South Asian Americans could make Obama President'

August 12, 2008 12:18 IST

Popular Indian American actor Kalpen Modi alias Kal Penn, a surrogate for the Obama campaign, has argued that South Asian Americans can be the swing vote in November's presidential election and help assure that the presumptive Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama is elected President.
 
Speaking at a house party hosted by longtime Democratic strategist Toby Chaudhuri and his wife Ruby Roy, Penn, one of the exclusive few South Asian Americans authorised to speak on behalf of the campaign, said the last presidential election "was decided by three million votes and according to the Census and a bunch of independent groups, the average number of South Asian Americans living in the United States is three million."

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"So, if ever there was any question as to whether family background or immigration history or age was holding anyone back in being effective, that's all pretty much dissolved," he contended. "And we got proof to show that no matter what your background is, that one vote and that one effort of making a phone call and reaching out and registering somebody to vote can have huge implications and a huge impact."
 
Penn exhorted the young Asian American leaders and activists present that "depending on how much time you can put in, you can head up particular regions, you can help with youth outreach, South Asian outreach -- any kind of demographic outreach -- registering people."

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He said, "Virginia is a battleground state and with your help we can definitely win it."
 
During the interaction that followed, Penn was asked about reports of a significant segment of supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton  -- whom Obama defeated for the nomination in a bitterly contested primary -- planning to vote for Republican nominee Senator John McCain.

Penn asserted that this was untrue and simply a "great media spin on behalf of Republicans."

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He said, "It seems to me that the talk about people being divided like that was a pretty great media spin on behalf of the Republicans. Whether you are supporting Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, everybody wanted the same things. And, Senator McCain is not going to bring our friends home -- if he gets his way -- for a 100 years from Iraq."
 
"Universal health care is not a priority and the last eight years of George Bush tax cuts for the very, very wealthy, are going to keep continuing," he added. "So, to me it seems like a no-brainer and when we talk to folks, those are the issues they are more focused on. Those are the ones we keep dialoguing about. It seems really easy, if you've seen the McCain ads, to get distracted and believe the Democrats are divided."

                                         Obama is US Democratic presidential candidate
 
Penn reiterated, "I don't believe that's the case on the ground. What do those folks really want out of a President? Do they want some sort of change in leadership moving forward by a man who's a civil rights lawyer and a constitutional law professor, or do they want four more years of George Bush!"
 
Penn was also questioned about Obama's proposed tax increases -- and the gathering pointed out that the hard-working south Asian American community of professionals and small business entrepreneurs would rather keep their money in their own pockets than contribute even more to Uncle Sam.

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"The whole issue of taxation to me is relatively simple," the actor said.

"Under the Bush administration, there have been huge corporate tax breaks, where middle class families have to pay an unfair burden of taxes. So, what Obama wants to do is reverse that so that big corporations are paying their fair share of taxes and working families will have tax reductions," he argued.

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Penn told the audience, "The other question that I frequently get is, 'Aren't you in a higher tax bracket and isn't Barack Obama going to increase your taxes?' And, to that question, the answer is kind of yes. And, it's also a kind of certain responsibility that comes with the privilege that we live with to make sure that we are paying our fair share in taxes so that other folks don't have to decide between minimum wage or going to work in Iraq."
 
Earlier, he reminisced about how last month he had gone up to Obama's Senate office on Capitol Hill for the first time "to say hi to some friends…I'd never been up there before and he's got this wall that you really can't see from either the reception area or if you are passing by his office door."

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"But, if you are sitting in his desk, there is a wall next to the door and on that wall are three pictures -- there is one of John F Kennedy, one of Martin Luther King, and one of Gandhi with the spinning wheel."
 
Penn said that Obama keeps "that there for daily inspiration and the daily reminder of why he does the things he does and his commitment to public service."
 
"And, I haven't heard of anybody actually keeping these constant reminders every single day. It was definitely an emotional thing to see on my part," he said.

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He said, "Those of you who've met him know that in a room of five people, he's the same guy that he's in a stadium of 50,000."
 
Penn is best known as the co-star of the hilarious comedy series Harold and Kumar that has become a cult favourite with fans worldwide. He also starred in Mira Nair's The Namesake, and has also appeared in the popular Law and Order series on television.
 
Currently, he appears on the hit TV show House, but is on a hiatus for summer.

Aziz Haniffa in Arlington, Virginia