As 50th birthdays go, President Obama’s keeping it pretty quiet. There is nothing in his official diary for today to mark the milestone. There’ll be a reception with senior staff this afternoon, followed by a quiet night in with family and close friends. But then it hasn’t exactly been the best couple of weeks of his life.
Yesterday, the President celebrated the last hours of his forties by treating staffers to a slap-up meal to thank them for their hard work on the debt ceiling deal.
Except this was no swish DC restaurant, but the Good Stuff Eatery, where the White House team splashed out on a selection of burgers and fries: including, perhaps, the ”Prez Obama” burger, featuring roquefort cheese and ”delicious horseradish mayo sauce”. The joint is a somewhat unlikely favourite with the First Lady, according to Obama, who admitted he didn’t ”get out much’‘.
Last night, though, was a chance for a full-on party, a huge fundraising event in the President’s hometown of Chicago, compered by his old friend and former chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. It was a chance to kick back with supporters after days of tension and acrimony surrounding the debt ceiling deal: “It doesn’t matter how tough a week I have in Washington,“ he told around 1700 activists, “because I know you’ve got me — you’ve got my back.”
After dinner, and another donors’ event, came a glitzy concert featuring Jennifer Hudson and Herbie Hancock, tickets selling for between $50 and a more ambitious $35,800. Then, for the non Chicagoans, a chance for grassroots supporters at some 11,000 events around the country to ask direct questions via a special live streamed video link. What did Obama think of the protracted negotiations to avoid the debt default catastrophe? “Extraordinary“… although “not the kind of extraordinary the American people are looking for“.
The near-miss of potential financial disaster can only have been compounded by the sheer weight of liberal disappointment with the deal: trillions of dollars in spending cuts and not a tax increase in sight.
Now the focus returns to the next potential crisis — jobs. With unemployment still a fraction over 9 per cent, Obama is heading out on the road with a bus tour through the Midwest later this month, promoting his new plans for job creation. And as if to emphasise the ”pivot”, there’s a new slogan on the White House website: Putting Americans Back to Work.
The one job he really wants to hang onto, of course, is his own. And as he prepares to spend that quiet birthday night at home, he’ll be working out how to make sure it’s not one of the last birthdays he’ll spend in the White House.