Friday, August 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. President (though you might not have much fun)

Pete Souza/The White House
In 2009, the official birthday party for President Obama was celebrated in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. It was a low-key event with family and staff.
President Barack Obama is celebrating his 51st birthday (Aug. 4) in his hometown of Chicago this year, with a big bash that amounts to a campaign event.
Invites to the party are through a sweepstakes, and the campaign asks for a donation with every entry. According to the invitation, it will be an event that will be “so cool you're almost jealous of yourself.”
We would've hoped that this year, he would make revelers proud. But if history is any indication, it doesn't look like Obama is going to be kicking up his presidential heels particularly high.
When George W. Bush was president, he kept his birthdays on the small side too, celebrating his 62nd aboard Air Force One in 2008 en route to Japan. First lady Laura Bush was with him, along with a few White House staff members. The party was in the airplane's conference room and included just a coconut cake and a gift of birthday cards held in a small wooden box with Bush’s initials on it. According to presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, a president’s birthday is a chance to be with family and staff, especially in an election year. "Anything President Obama does that seems too self-congratulatory can get spun," he said. "If there’s ever a year he’s not gonna showboat, it would be this one.” 

Scott Olson / Pool / EPA
Cake, presents and a gorilla suit? See how some of the nation's presidents celebrated their birthdays throughout the years.
It was a markedly more subdued affair than the party that took place during Harry Truman’s time in the White House. On his birthday in 1947, his supporters gifted him with a bowling alley, built right into the Situation Room. Nor does it compare to John F. Kennedy, who held a bash in Madison Square Garden that included an infamous performance by Marilyn Monroe.  
Brinkley said that JFK's birthday party, which featured Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” while wearing a dress so tight she had been sewn into it, rates as the historical exception, not the rule. “It’s the one that lives in infamy,” he told
It’s good to know that a bar has been set, even if it was in 1962. Looks like President Obama has some catching up to do. 
Last year, Obama celebrated his birthday with donors and had a barbecue at the White House. Along with friends and family, there were also four kinds of pie -- apple, peach, huckleberry and cherry -- in honor of the pie-obsessed president. Not exactly a birthday to remember.
Doug Wead, a presidential historian who was special assistant to president George H. W. Bush, said that a commander-in-chief's birthday is a different sort of experience than the regular guy's, mostly because presidents receive gifts year-round. "Every day is a birthday," Wead told "They're getting gifts constantly." 

Getty Images / Getty Images
Former President George H.W. Bush performs a tandem parachute jump with Army Golden Knight Sgt. Bryan Schnell on June 13, 2004 over the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. Bush made two jumps to celebrate his 80th birthday.
 According to Wead, almost everyone he escorted into the Oval Office during his time there, whether the guest was on serious business or not, would bring a gift. “It would be a special kind of fishing pole they knew of, or an obscure baseball card that’s worth a fortune," he said. "One brought in a gigantic oil painting that we had to set up in the Oval Office for the president to look at, and would go in the Presidential Library after he left.” They are always bringing something, he said, like handwritten poems by Longfellow or something similarly precious. 

But once their time in office is up, presidents can finally let loose: Bill Clinton, for example, was serenaded by Lady Gaga last year for his 65th birthday.  Mead said that it is in the post-White House years that presidents “begin to find a life again.”
Perhaps we should take a page from Bush's book and suggest skydiving for Obama’s 51st birthday. After all, according to the invitation, airfare is included....George H. W. Bush certainly did. After leaving office, he began jumping out of planes for his birthday. The latest jump was in 2009 for his 85th birthday, and he has said he’ll go again on his 90th. After a jump he said, “Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.”

More from TODAY:

Franklin Roosevelt

A birthday cake five feet high, weighing 300 pounds is presented to President Franklin Roosevelt by William Green center, American Federation of Labor president on Jan. 28, 1941. The president turns 59 on Jan. 30. Here he has just sampled a small piece of the cake.

Harry S. Truman

President Harry S. Truman cuts a cake on his 61st birthday anniversary in the White House, Washington, D.C., May 8, 1945. The day marked his first full day as a resident in the Executive Mansion.
John Rous / AP

Dwight Eisenhower

President Dwight Eisenhower casts an admiring glance at a big square birthday cake, presented to him on Oct. 13, 1959 on the White House lawn, Washington before his takeoff for Abilene, Kansas, where he will celebrate his 69th birthday. Three minature oak trees with real acorns symbolizing three real trees which also were presented to him as a gift of the Republican National, Senatorial and Congressional Committees adorn the cake.

John F. Kennedy

President John Kennedy smiles in response to well wishers at his 44th birthday party on May 29, 1961 in Boston's Commonwealth Armory.

Richard Nixon

President Richard Nixon's dog King Timahoe takes a sample of the birthday cake presented to the president by the White House staff in a small party, Jan. 9, 1974 at the Western White House in San Clemente. First lady Pat Nixon and daughter Tricia shared in the festivities.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan, with First Lady Nancy Reagan and U.S. Sen. Charles Percy, left, wave from the reviewing stand during a birthday celebration parade through the streets of Dixon, Ill. on Monday, Feb. 6, 1984.
Barry Thumma / AP

George H. W. Bush

Budget Director Richard Darman, dressed in a gorilla suit, greets President George H. W. Bush with balloons on Monday, June 12, 1989 in Washington as he leaves the White House for a flight to Yellowstone National Park. The President is celebrating his 65th birthday.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP

George W. Bush

President George W. Bush, left, begins his 56th birthday playing a round of golf with his father, former-president George H. W. Bush, right, at the Cape Arundel Golf Club at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, Saturday, July 6, 2002. President Bush is sporting a cap that says "El Jefe," meaning "the boss" in Spanish.
Scott Olson / Pool via EPA

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama greets supporters during a fundraiser at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Ill. on Aug. 4, 2011. The fundraiser, billed as a birthday celebration for the President who turns 50 years old on Aug. 4, featured entertainment by Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson and others.

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