O bummer: Birthday bash "significantly" scaled back over COVID criticism

AP Photo/Michael Sohn

So long, George and Oprah. Hello, coziness. Just days after Axios reported that Barack Obama would throw himself a birthday bash with 475 invited guests, word has now come that, er, someone pointed out the optics to the Obamas.

Want to bet that someone was his ol’ buddy Joe?

The party plans had been months in the making and many invitees had already arrived on Martha’s Vineyard when former President Barack Obama belatedly announced he was canceling his huge 60th birthday bash scheduled for Saturday.

“Due to the new spread of the Delta variant over the past week, the President and Mrs. Obama have decided to significantly scale back the event to include only family and close friends,” Hannah Hankins, a spokeswoman for the former president, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “He’s appreciative of others sending their birthday wishes from afar and looks forward to seeing people soon.”

Ahem. The spread of the Delta variant is anything but new. Health officials began warning about the COVID-19 variant since May. The Biden administration began citing it as a cause for immediate action at the beginning of June, nearly two months ago. The only thing “new” about the Delta variant spread has been Obama’s apparent willful ignorance of it until his plans for the birthday party leaked out.

Even if the plans were “months in the making” — and that’s almost certainly the case for an event of this size — the obvious reasons for canceling it were months in the open. Joe Biden and his administration have been pushing states and localities to reimpose mask mandates for weeks now, with Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci hinting at renewed lockdowns. With Democrats like Gavin Newsom and Muriel Bowser already undercutting their own messaging on mitigation, the last thing Biden needed was his former boss hosting a splashy birthday bash on Martha’s Vineyard with 475 A-listers drawing attention.

Not only did they not grasp the optics, they actively scoffed at them — until now:

Mr. Obama, however, had at first appeared eager to carry on with his plans, displaying what some viewed as a casual disregard for the optics of his birthday bash. Even as cities like Washington reimposed mask mandates indoors, a source involved in the planning of Mr. Obama’s birthday party said the event would go on as planned, underscoring that it would be outdoors and all guests would be following C.D.C. public health protocols.

Many of Mr. Obama’s former aides also defended his decision to carry on.

“Guys…buy a map,” Tommy Vietor, a former Obama spokesman, wrote on Twitter in response to a news article about the party proceeding amid growing concerns about the coronavirus after an outbreak in the vaccinated community of Provincetown, Mass. “Martha’s Vineyard is an island. It’s not close to Provincetown.”

Ah, hubris. “Buy a map” turned into “go back” after enough attention fell on the event, as willfully ignoring the obvious finally became untenable. Still, they waited until the last minute to “scale back,” and for some, well past the last minute:

Hundreds of former Obama administration officials, celebrities and Democratic donors had been planning to attend the party at Mr. Obama’s island mansion. Many guests were already in transit and others were scheduling the required coronavirus tests whose results they had to submit to a medical “coronavirus coordinator” to gain entry to the Obama compound. The New York Post reported that George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey were all expected to attend.

Imagine going through all that and arriving in Massachusetts, only to be told that the Obamas had only now just figured out how this spectacle would look to the hoi polloi. It’s not quite a Fyre Festival on the scale of dashed expectations, but only because it lacks any element of fraud. Hope you enjoyed the airline food!