Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple weeks for Barack Obama. Though the worst of this latest crisis is technically behind him, you can't help but feel that this year’s birthday will not be his most relaxing one. Still, that's no reason not to try to unwind a bit.
To that end, the president spent the last lunch of his 40s at Capitol Hill’s Good Stuff Eatery, where he treated staffers to burgers and shakes. “Michelle eats here all the time,” he told reporters, “but I don’t get out.”
It seems he tried to make the most of the rare trip, consuming a meal “of about 1,700 calories.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t even able to binge in peace: Congressman G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat who voted against the debt deal, spotted the party and dropped by the table to talk “about the difficult vote the other night.”
Then it was on to a $35,800-a-plate fund-raiser in Chicago featuring performances by Jennifer Hudson, Herbie Hancock, and OK Go. Of course, the fund-raiser's guest of honor was still on the clock, and the address he gave was pretty sober for a birthday speech — or any kind of speech, really. “I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like the one we just saw over the last couple of weeks,” he told the revelers. Even the jokes made us a little stressed (“It is true that I turn 50 tomorrow, which means that by the time I wake up, I’ll have an e-mail from the AARP, asking me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare”).
It was the first time the president had been outside Washington for a month (perhaps the trip was birthday present enough!). Obama was forced to cancel several planned fund-raisers during the debt-ceiling negotiations, and as a result his campaign fund-raising is running behind pace. His third-quarter haul won't be anything like the $86 million he brought in during Q2, but the birthday bash might chip away at the difference. It's a war chest he'll need; he hits the milestone birthday with an approval rating, 43, much lower than his age.
50 might be mid-life crisis territory for most, but it's actually young for D.C. The Washington Post calls it a "tweener" age: Fifty-somethings are neither young, cheap, and ambitious labor making the wheels turn, nor are they yet "elder statesmen." Instead, it's an age that's a turning point for many careers.
Washington math goes something like this: the number of powerful people you can get on the phone plus the number of people who think you can get those powerful people on the phone. By the time you’re 50, that had better be a big number.
Obama's probably doing just fine on that number.
Plans for the actual big day include a working morning, followed by an afternoon reception for senior staff in the Blue Room and a quiet night at home with his family and friends. After that, he’ll fly to Camp David where, hopefully, he can finally get an actual break. Or, at the very least, another visit from Oprah.