As President Obama wraps up debt-ceiling negotiations, he has another big event on the horizon this week. This Thursday, August 4, the president turns 50.
The swankiest of two events, at the Aragon Ballroom in his home town Chicago, costs from $50 to $35,800 a person and will feature performances by OK Go, Herbie Hancock and Jennifer Hudson.
Proceeds will be split between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The president’s remarks from the party will be beamed into satellite parties being held by supporters around the country.
In a recruitment drive called “50 for 50”, activists were asked to sign up 50 new people to win a chance to attend one of the Chicago bashes, and were also given the chance to donate to the campaign.
Despite worsening poll numbers, Mr Obama raised a record $86 million in the second quarter of this year and is forecast to exceed the $700 million raised in his successful 2008 campaign.
Tea Party protesters plan to congregate opposite the ballroom for a “jobs bash” designed to highlight the struggling economy and high unemployment.
It is being organised by William Kelly, who runs a television production company. “All of my friends are out of work,” he told the Washington Times. “The president is out here trying to raise money to get reelected, and we want real Americans to have jobs.”
Mr Obama’s actual birthday is on Thursday, but he plans to fly back to Washington on Wednesday night. Aides have not released details of his plans for the day itself. As the debate over a debt deal dragged on, it seemed he might have to miss the celebrations in Chicago.
“I feel real good about 5-0,” he said recently. “I’ve got a little greyer since I took this job, but otherwise, I feel pretty good.”
Mr Obama added that his wife, Michelle, has told him that she still thinks “I’m cute”. He aadded: “And I guess that’s, that’s all that matters, isn’t?”
Born on Aug. 4, 1961, near the end of the baby boom years of 1946-1964, Obama is joining more than 4.5 million other boomers who are turning 50 this year, according to AARP, citing U.S. Census figures.
“Now I’m gray,” he says at campaign fundraisers. “I’ve got dings and dents,” an apparent reference to the bruising policy disputes he’s had with a politically divided Congress, including over borrowing the money the government needs to keep paying its bills.
He told reporters at a White House news conference in mid-July that he was turning 50 in a week; his birthday actually was still three weeks away.
“So I’m starting to think a little bit more about Medicare eligibility,” Obama said. “I’m going to get my AARP card soon — and the discounts.” Not that he needs them. He has made millions from a best-selling memoir and earns $400,000 a year for running the country.
After meeting last week with four African presidents whose countries have marked 50 years of independence, Obama joked that “I’m also celebrating my 50th of at least existence.”
The gray hair sprouting from Obama’s temples is about the only obvious sign of aging.
The 6-foot-1 president is as lanky as he was when he took office. He’s gained no noticeable amount of weight despite a level of job stress that would send most people to the refrigerator for relief on a nightly basis.
He has stuck to a regimen of near daily exercise that includes treadmill runs, weight lifting and weekend games of pickup basketball, golf or substitute coaching daughter Sasha’s basketball team.
“Many of you knew me before I had gray hair,” Obama jokes at campaign fundraisers. He halted most travel in July, including fundraising trips, due to the tense and intense negotiations with Congress.
Of the gray hair, he says: “Malia and Sasha say it makes me look distinguished. Michelle says it makes me look old.” The first lady also talks about seeing the “worry creasing his face.”
Obama is due for another medical checkup soon. After his first exam in early 2010, doctors declared him in excellent health and noted a borderline high cholesterol level of 209 that suggested room for improvement in his diet.
The president has a habit of sampling local greasy-spoon delicacies — whether it’s burgers, chili dogs, pastries, or all of them — on trips outside of Washington.
He once said he and the first lady would have to figure out how to resist ordering the White House pastry chef’s pie every night “because whatever pie you like, he will make it and it will be the best pie you have ever eaten.”
He also finally quit smoking, the first lady said.
Obama is the third U.S. president who belongs to the post-World War II baby boom generation, a population of more than 76 million. Bill Clinton was the first, followed by George W. Bush.
Obama was expected to spend his actual birthday, Thursday, in Washington. But other than a work day full of meetings, the White House hasn’t said how he and his family plan to celebrate.
Besides the birthday fundraisers at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, Obama’s re-election campaign is planning hundreds of house parties around the country. It also has asked supporters to each recruit 50 new supporters for the president’s birthday. [via The Telegraph (UK), Washington Post and Chicago Tribune]