Chicago Sun Times Exclusive: Obama's post-presidential slogan, 'Eight years is only the beginning'
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk down the stairs from Air Force One after arriving at JFK International Airport in New York in September 2014. | Julie Jacobson/AP
WASHINGTON — Though President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle still have two years left in the White House, their foundation has come up with a bold slogan for their next chapter: “Eight years is only the beginning.”
When they leave on Jan. 20, 2017, Obama will be only 55 and his wife, who turned 51 on Jan. 17, will have just celebrated her 53rd birthday.
Not that I ever doubted it, but the Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation‘s revamped website, which went live Friday, makes it clear the Obamas intend to maintain a robust public presence in the decades to come.
The foundation launched the retooled website with a tease as it solicited people to sign up for its email list, a crucial first step to low-dollar fundraising. “Something big is coming and we want you to be a part of it.”
The long-anticipated decision on which university will host the Obama presidential library, museum and academic center is expected at the end of March. The competition is among the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, the University of Hawaii and Columbia University in New York.
The foundation also is putting out a call for Obama “artifacts” to be donated to the museum. They are looking for “a photo, a story or physical object.”
“Help us tell Obama’s story,” says a Web page. “Over the next few years, the foundation will collect and catalog artifacts that memorialize Obama’s historic campaigns and presidency.”
Obama is very aware the clock is ticking. “And I promise you, I’m not going out the last two years sitting on the sidelines,” he told House Democrats at their Jan. 29 retreat in Philadelphia.
While Obama is focusing on the present, the foundation, led by Obama’s pal Marty Nesbitt, is creating the framework for the Obamas’ future. The foundation was created in January 2014.
“Our first priority is laying the groundwork for the Barack Obama Library and Museum,” the foundation said. “This year, we’ll choose a partner institution and construction site and start to gather the stories and artifacts that recall a historic presidency.
“Next, we’ll sketch out the programs and initiatives that will begin when the president and first lady come on board in 2017.”
A foundation representative, who declined to be named, said the site was updated “to provide the necessary digital infrastructure for the foundation as we prepare to grow in the months and years ahead.”
If that pitch to harvest data seems familiar, it is based on models used by the two Obama presidential campaigns, the social media operatives at the Obama White House and the Obama-related Organizing for Action, also based in Chicago.
The foundation’s overhauled website was created by Blue State Digital, whose founder, Joe Rospars, was the main digital strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. Blue State also works for OFA.
FOOTNOTE: I’m told that Nesbitt will be calling Chicago community leaders to independently get some input as the self-imposed March decision deadline nears. On Feb. 11, the Chicago Park District will consider transferring park land to the city if the foundation ends up picking the University of Chicago, which proposed using parts of Washington Park or Jackson Park.
“In the weeks ahead, we will be reaching out to community leaders to solicit their thoughts and feedback in advance of our site selection recommendation. Once a site has been selected, the foundation will continue to work with local institutions, governments and citizens to ensure their voices are heard in the process of constructing the Obama Presidential Center,” a foundation spokesman said.