Happy Birthday, Mr. President: Obama Turns 48

In country's most stressful job, presidents rarely age gracefully.

August 3, 2009, 6:59 PM

Aug. 4, 2009— -- A presidential birthday isn't all that bad -- just think Marilyn Monroe crooning "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy. But if President Obama wants to make his 48th birthday today a happy one, he would be advised not to look at photos of how his predecessors aged in office.

Neither the spokesman for the president nor the spokeswoman for the first lady would disclose Monday how the president planned to celebrate his birthday.

The president, however, is scheduled to have lunch with the Senate Democrats to "talk about the priorities that they have, to talk about what has been accomplished in the first 6½ months of the administration," spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday.

Where is lunch? The White House.

Why there? "It's the president's birthday, and Chuck E. Cheese was booked," Gibbs joked.

Gibbs said Obama celebrated with friends over the weekend at Camp David, where he played basketball and bowled.

Basketball, bowling and Chuck E. Cheese may all be part of the president's plan to continue looking hale and youthful -- and, if previous presidents are any indication, a plan is exactly what he needs.

"All the presidents age in office. All you have to do is look at the photos at the beginning of their terms and the end," said presidential historian and ABC News consultant Richard Norton Smith.

"And they all age for pretty much the same reason. It's the nature of the job. It's the demands of the job. It's a 24-hour job. I can't think of another job that carries the same degree of responsibility; and if that's true in peace time, it is exponentially greater in times of war."

If he thought his last birthday was stressful -- stopping on the campaign trail in Michigan, Massachusetts and Ohio -- this year he contends with two wars, a tottering financial system and spiraling health care costs.

Presidential Birthdays, Before Obama

Much was made in January, when the official portrait of the president -- to hang in government offices and embassies -- was unveiled showing a more seasoned Barack Obama. The seasoning: a distinguished dash of salt and pepper hair.

"The gray is coming quick," he reportedly said in July 2008. "By the time I'm sworn in, I will look the part."

(The above images contrast the Obama of recent weeks with an earlier picture taken Feb. 10, 2007, the day he declared his intention to run for the White House.)

Ironically, the attention paid to Obama's aging has a lot to do with his youth, Smith said.

"Youth becomes a stand in for change, for sometimes profound change," Smith said. "Freshness is seen as a fresh start. Youth is something that can be exploited and built upon and which can define an administration. It is a symbol for a new approach in government."

Obama was 47 when inaugurated, making him the second-youngest man elected president. Kennedy was 46 when he was sworn in in 1961.

But however Obama chooses to spend his birthday today, it will likely pale in comparison to the first presidential birthday.

As a new country with no established holidays to speak of -- even celebrating July 4 wouldn't take off until after the War of 1812 -- George Washington's April 30 birthday became a big deal, even while he was still in office.

"George Washington was the one thing that held the country together, and annual balls were held across the country to honor his birthday," historian Smith said. "Some of the followers of Thomas Jefferson believed even Washington didn't deserve this royalist observance and his birthday was continuously celebrated until Jefferson took office."

Franklin Roosevelt also was happy to throw a party on his birthday, but did so for a good cause.

After founding the March of Dimes, a charity that supported polio research, the paralyzed FDR held an annual fundraiser every year on his birthday.