Minneapolis (CNN) – Presidents don’t usually get to grab cheeseburgers at the corner dive.
But the normal restrictions placed on a commanders-in-chief don’t seem to hinder President Barack Obama recently, who’s continuing his effort to poke through the bubble and experience life as average Americans do – or at least an approximation of it.
This week that brought him here to Minnesota, where he met for lunch with a working mom who wrote him detailing her family’s economic challenges. Rebekah Erler, 36, said in a letter to Obama that her family had been hit hard by the economic downturn of the last decade.
It’s the first in a series of White House-planned “day-in-the-life” events spread over the summer meant to expose Obama, and by extension the rest of Washington, to the ways Americans live today. Participants are found in the stack of letters to Obama that arrive at the White House daily.
“Day-in-the-life” may be a bit of an oversell on the White House’s part - it appeared at times Erler was living Obama’s life for a day rather than the other way around, and by her own account Erler was overwhelmed by the attention.
But Obama’s meeting with Erler, along with the accompanying build-up, did provide a way for the White House to tout their economic message, pegged to improving conditions for the middle class and raising the minimum wage, while slamming Republicans.
“They are not doing anything and then they are mad that I am doing something,” Obama said of GOP lawmakers at a lakeside bandshell on Friday, going on to use Erler as an example of the type of person who could benefit from Democrats’ proposed policies.
“Our agenda – what we’re fighting for every day – isn’t designed to solve every problem but to help a little bit,” he said, pointing to efforts to raise the federal minimum wage and enforce pay equity between men and women.
On Thursday, Obama met up with Erler at Matt’s Bar, a corner establishment packed with lunch-goers. He ordered the bar’s specialty (the “Jucy Lucy” burger that’s stuffed with cheese), sat with Erler in a booth and spent 20 minutes or so hearing her story.
The photo-op of Obama sitting in a booth with Erler seemed designed, at least in part, to show Obama living life as an ordinary American – something he said wasn’t a far cry from his own experience.
“The story (Erler) told me reminded Michelle and I of some of our own experiences when we were Rebekah and her husband’s age,” he said, adding later: “That’s how I came here. That’s how I got here. That’s how Michelle and I were able to succeed. And we haven’t forgotten.”
White House officials insisted Obama’s interactions with Erler weren’t overly produced, but rather a way for the President to glimpse life outside the presidential bubble.
“Our goal here is to give the President an authentic opportunity to see at least part of the world through the eyes of this one working mom in Minnesota,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday. “Frankly, we’d be ruining it if we were trying to stage-manage this whole thing.”
The excursion, if anything, gave Obama the opportunity to break the routine aides say is giving him a case of cabin fever.
“You know, I'm like a caged bear,” Obama said at a town hall event on Thursday, repeating a favorite catchphrase for his last-minute off-campus excursions. “And every once in a while I break loose. And I’m feeling super loose today.”