Friday, June 22, 2012

President Obama's Sweetest Signature Gesture: The Cake Presentation

The Cakemander in Chief has been very, very busy lately...
UPDATE: CLICK HERE for more Presidential cake posts
President Obama has been on quite a cakewalk in the last six weeks. At the White House, at Camp David, and aboard Air Force One, the President's signature grand gesture has become the presentation of lovely cakes to mark special moments. He has delighted at least five different recipients--from journalists to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan--with sweet, candle-topped offerings. It's been such a theme lately that three Presidential cake images were included in the White House gallery of behind-the-scenes photos for May. And those are just the ones on the record; June 10th was Sasha Obama's 11th birthday, celebrated as a private family affair. Above, at the closed-to-press Combatant Commander's Dinner in the Blue Room on May 15, the President presented a birthday cake to Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations. No menu was released for the dinner, but yes, Presidential birthday cake was personally served to the delighted Admiral.

Since 2009, among the thousands of images that have been posted to the official White House Flickr, chief photographer Pete Souza has released a total of just ten other photos of the President offering cake or cupcakes to lucky recipients. But at a time when Mr. Obama is being criticized for being cerebral and detached, releasing three such photos all at once is a genius maneuver. The very act of personally presenting cake humanizes Mr. Obama, and is simultaneously a subtle symbol of every President's prime role as servant of The People. Yet the gesture also positions Mr. Obama as being in possession of superior power, since he is the one granting the special honorarium as the Cakemander in Chief. (Above: The President brings birthday cake into the Oval Office for an aide's party in 2009)

As a very interesting note, in the last three-plus years, there has never been an official photo released showing First Lady Michele Obama making a cake presentation.

This week's Presidential cake presentation was aboard Air Force One on Tuesday night, as Mr. Obama flew back to Washington from the Mexico G20. With less than an hour remaining in the trip, the President visited the press cabin to present a small plate with a square slice of Tiramisu, topped with a single lit candle, to Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason, who was celebrating his birthday on June 19th. Joined by Souza, Press Secretary Jay Carney, and advisor Ben Rhodes, the President led the press corps in singing "Happy Birthday." No photo has yet been released.

During the G8 Summit at Camp David, MD., the President presented Prime Minister Noda with a chocolate birthday cake laden with strawberries at the end of the evening's closed-to-press leaders' working dinner (above). Held in the Laurel Cabin on May 18, the dinner kicked off the Summit. Interestingly, the President is just out of the frame of the photo, but the Prime Minister's reaction is one of sheer joy. It was a terrific move for international relations: The President and Prime Minister, who celebrated his 55th birthday on May 20, were meeting for just the second time. Seated, from left, are José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy. The photo was included in the May Flickr set.

The photo above was also in the May set. On May 2, President Obama marked the birthday of another journalist aboard AF1. He feted Bloomberg White House correspondent Julianna Goldman with a candle-topped piece of coffee cake during the flight from Ramstein, Germany, to Joint Base Andrews, Md.. The flight was the final return leg of the President's surprise, whirlwind visit to Afghanistan on the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden. Celebrating a birthday on the heels of marking the demise of the world's most wanted terrorist is an especially powerful moment, symbolizing, in sugar and flour, those time-honored American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not to mention that the President made the grand gesture of presenting the cake, even though he must have been exhausted.

There was yet another recent Presidential cake celebration for a member of the press corps. On June 7, as he returned to Washington on AF1 from an event in Las Vegas, Nevada, President Obama "popped into the press cabin unannounced" at 8:20 PM Eastern time, to present Reuters correspondent Caren Bohan with a bowl of strawberry shortcake, topped with a single lit candle plunked into the whipped cream. It was Bohan's last flight aboard AF1 as a White House correspondent; she was departing the press corps to take a new job. There was no photo released of the moment.

Cake presentations in the past...
The older photos of the Presidential cake presentations are as interesting as the newer ones. Above, the image of President Obama surprising his former Personal Secretary Katie Johnson with a gift and birthday cake in the Oval Office on March 25, 2011 is fairly intimate, with the President placing his hand on Johnson's back as she blows out the candles. And it seems as if no one else is in the room, except for the aide holding the cake--and, of course, Souza, who took the photo. Johnson left the White House later in 2011 to attend Harvard Law School, the President's alma mater.

Among the earliest cake photos is the one, above, of President Obama presenting a birthday cake to Senior Advisor Pete Rouse in the Oval Office on April 15, 2009, while loads of staff look on. Rouse later in the Administration briefly became the President's Chief of Staff before returning to his preferred behind-the-scenes role.

And not to be overlooked is the photo, below, of the President presenting cupcakes to Hearst White House columnist Helen Thomas in honor of her birthday on Aug. 4, 2009, in the Briefing Room.

Thomas, who was turning 89, had worked for decades at the White House, and shared the same birthday as the President, who was turning 48. It was among Thomas' last happy moments in the Briefing Room; she retired from the press corps after a firestorm over anti-Semitic comments in 2010.

"It's a shame, because Helen was...really an institution of Washington," President Obama told the Today show at the time, while noting that her comments were "out of line."

*Photos by Pete Souza/White House. The August 6th, 2009 small photo was for the birthday party for Phil Schiliro, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs.