Has the White House turkey pardon jumped the shark?
We ask this because this year’s traditional ceremony – in which President Obama will pardon a bird presumably otherwise bound for a Thanksgiving platter – is more, um, elaborate than ever. It involves two turkeys, and Facebook, and voting, and Carly Simon. This isn’t a lighter moment in a president’s otherwise heavy schedule, it’s an over-produced reality show. Call it “The Gravy Factor," or maybe “America’s Got Drumsticks."
OK, we’ll back up a moment and take this whole thing from the top. Since at least 1947, US presidents have participated in an annual event in which they receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving harvest feast.
At the beginning, these birds had a date with oyster stuffing. President Truman ate his, or at least said he was going to. President Eisenhower did the same thing.
But more recently, White Houses have decided it looks less carnivorous for them to grant the on-stage bird clemency. According to a White House history of the event, John F. Kennedy was the first to send his turkey back to the farm. “We’ll just let this one grow,” he said.
President George H. W. Bush was the first to use the actual word “pardon." He sent his turkey to live out its days at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., thereby indicating he had a subtler sense of humor than historians give him credit for today.
Since then the ceremony has become more and more Hollywood. Two turkeys are involved – a primary turkey and a backup in case the first bird can’t carry out its duty of continuing to live.
Enter Gobbler and Cobbler. This year, some Obama aide had the bright idea of pitting these two birds against each other in a Facebook-based voting contest. The one with the most “likes” would be named the official White House bird.
Cobbler is a four-month-old, 40-pound male, also from Rockingham, who’s a “strutter” and likes the song “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, according to his official bio.
(Sweet cornbread stuffing! Who’s the overachieving White House official who had to make that stuff up? They clawed their way to the top of Washington and thought they’d be running the world and instead they’re hawking poultry.)
At last look, Cobbler was the favorite – he had about 2,400 “likes” to Gobbler’s 2,100. Neither will be eaten, so the title is honorific. Maybe they get a sash, or a crown.
But here’s our point – it seems to us they’re being ironic about the whole ceremony instead of straightforward. “Cobbler”? Carly Simon? If it’s not worth doing it without a subtext, maybe it’s not worth doing at all.
It’s not like presidents enjoy it. Or at least, many don’t seem to. Ike and Jimmy Carter made their veeps shoulder most of the turkey-related duties. Ronald Reagan laughed when his turkey made a flyabout and bolted for freedom.
In 2009, Obama approached the bird to be pardoned, named “Courage," and asked his (the bird’s) handlers if there was an “official gesture." Come on – this whole thing has become too grandiose, like the “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie literally jumped a shark while water-skiing. At that point, the show’s creators were out of ideas, and it began to go downhill.
Perhaps the turkey pardon has reached that crucial turn in the narrative road. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked Obama to end the practice, calling it “archaic."
“The White House turkey ‘pardon’ is a sorely outdated event,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk wrote in a letter to the White House.
We might agree with that, but then again, the scalloped oysters are our own favorite part of the turkey-day meal.