Accompanied by daughters Sasha and Malia, the president strode to a lectern outside the Oval Office in the picturesque Rose Garden. The sky was a pure blue. The scent of baking cookies wafted enticingly in the air. The stars of the day, Cobbler and Gobbler, two 19-week-old, 40-pound turkeys from a farm near Harrisonburg, Va., gobbled with delight. Their day, they might have sensed, would end well. Better than that of their pals, anyway.
The president played his role with just the right mix of amusement and sincerity.
“The American people have spoken, and these turkeys are moving forward,” he said, smiling, before going on to talk about the real meaning of Thanksgiving and encouraging Americans to look out for one another.
But perhaps the time has come for Obama to end this dubious turkey pardoning charade. And not because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has requested that he spare all turkeys (although it has). Or that the symbolic pardoning of turkeys contrasts poorly with the actual pardoning of humans (although it does). No, the real reason he should end it is because it is unforgivably silly, and no president should intentionally subject himself — or the country — to such inanity.
The president has much on his plate (if not these two turkeys), so he’s to be forgiven if this doesn’t immediately rise to the top of his list of things to accomplish in his final term. By all means, deal with the fiscal cliff. Tackle global warming. Fix the Middle East. Sort out immigration. Perhaps even arrange for the Wizards to win a game.
But above all, put this ridiculous custom out of its misery. Everyone will thank you (not least the reporters assigned to cover it).
Like many ballyhooed traditions, the presidential turkey pardon has mostly bogus origins. Yes, Lincoln is said to have pardoned a turkey at the request of his son, but there was no ceremony involved. And yes, Truman and a succession of presidents following him have accepted a turkey or two from the powerful poultry lobby. (Powerful poultry lobby, that’s fun to say.) But this isn’t a time-honored ritual going back to the nation’s earliest years. This annual pardoning practice didn’t begin until the George H.W. Bush administration. So ending the tradition wouldn’t exactly upset the balance of American history.