Obama pardons 'Courage' ahead of Thanksgiving holiday

Joined by his daughters Sasha and Malia, President Obama pardons Courage, the White House turkey. The president also spoke to American service members and their families, and touched on the tough economic times facing the country.
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009; 2:44 PM

President Obama pardoned his first turkey Wednesday, sparing a 45-pound broad-breasted white gobbler named "Courage" from becoming Thanksgiving dinner.

In an appearance in the White House Rose Garden that was at turns lighthearted and serious, Obama reluctantly sentenced the pardoned turkey to life in Disneyland as his two daughters looked on. But he also offered the nation's thanks to its military personnel and noted that Thursday's most American of holidays comes as so many families "are hurting" from the protracted economic recession.

Speaking on the 20th anniversary of what he said was "the first official presidential pardon for a turkey" -- issued by President George H.W. Bush -- Obama recalled that at least a couple of his predecessors (Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson) ate the turkeys that the National Turkey Federation has been delivering to the White House for more than 50 years.

"Now, today I'm pleased to announce that, thanks to the interventions of Malia and Sasha -- because I was planning to eat this sucker -- Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate," Obama said to laughter from the audience. "Later today, he'll head to Disneyland, where he'll be grand marshal of tomorrow's parade." Also spared was an alternate turkey, Carolina.

Obama said he, first lady Michelle Obama and their two girls would take two dressed turkeys to Martha's Table, a charity in the District, on Wednesday afternoon.

"So today, all told, I believe it's fair to say that we have saved or created four turkeys," Obama joked, alluding to his jobs-creating stimulus program.

"You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office -- and then, there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland," he said.

Then, turning serious, he thanked the public and the military for the "privilege" of serving as their president and commander in chief, and he wished "a happy Thanksgiving to every service member at home or in harm's way."

As he and his family join millions of other Americans Thursday in giving thanks for their blessings, "we'll also remember . . . this is a time when so many members of our American family are hurting," Obama said. "There's no question this has been a tough year for America. We're at war; our economy is emerging from an extraordinary recession into recovery, but there is a long way to go and a lot of work to do."

Saying he was acting before first dog Bo could "escape and screw up this pardon -- or before I change my mind," Obama intoned, "I hereby pardon Courage, so that he can live out the rest of his days in peace and tranquillity -- in Disneyland."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company