America says happy birthday, Mr President

 

The very observant in Washington last night may have spotted thin lines of blue smoke wafting from behind the West Wing of the White House. It wasn't fumes of anger from President Barack Obama over all those things that have been going wrong lately; it was from the grills for the birthday barbecue.

Quiet celebrations with close staff members and later with his family were the only references in the White House diary to Mr Obama reaching 50 years of age yesterday. He did mark the milestone in more grand dollar-raising style on Wednesday night with three high-priced events for supporters in his home town, Chicago.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, meanwhile, sent an email to Democratic voters asking them to sign an electronic card for her husband. Fans were also asked to post a comment and some would be included in a 50th birthday book.

The reasons to celebrate were few for Mr Obama. He could be grateful that the debt-default disaster had been averted by a deal with Congress on Monday, but he knew that in the minds of many Democrats he had allowed himself to be trampled in the getting of it. And with a thud louder than any gift coming through the letter box, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted on his big day – down 500 points.

He acknowledged that his popularity numbers may be on the slide too, giving an online pep talk to supporters across the country. "I know that over the last two-and-a-half years there have been times when people have been frustrated," he said. "This past week was a frustrating week."

In her email, Mrs Obama noted that things will only intensify for her husband and the party with his re-election effort looming. "This next year will challenge us all to work harder than ever before," she said, while stressing that the President needs everyone's backing more than ever.

"Every day, I see Barack make choices he knows will affect every American family," Mrs Obama wrote. "That's no small task for anyone – and proof that he's earning every last one of those grey hairs."

Wednesday night's revels seemed more in keeping with the President's arrival at his 50-year milestone. The biggest of the three events was a gala dinner at the vintage Aragon ballroom in the Windy City, where he found himself serenaded by his fellow Chicago native Jennifer Hudson as well as by Herbie Hancock and the band OK Go.

Reports of the gala, which was reserved for high-paying Democratic donors, were enough for some critics to take stabs. "Dow Plunges, Obama Parties," said one Fox News headline.

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