Friday, December 3rd, 2021

Upbeat Biden Serves Turkeys a Side of Politics With Their Pardons

Following a political victory and a medical exam, the president seemed delighted to put his own spin on the light-hearted Thanksgiving turkey-pardoning tradition.

In 2021 America, even Thanksgiving turkeys are White House talking points.

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President Joe Biden, in what has become an annual affair, pardoned two turkeys (Peanut Butter and Jelly) Friday in what he said was an important tradition for a country grappling with loss and uncertainty.

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And he couldn’t help slipping in some references to his policy priorities.

The turkeys won a competition for the honor based on “temperament, appearance and – I suspect – vaccination status,” the president quipped. “Instead of getting basted, these two turkeys are getting boosted today.”

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Beaming after his morning victory in the House, which passed his $2 trillion Build Back Better Act and sent it to the Senate, the thankful president referenced the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill he signed Monday in the same space the pardon occurred.

Instead of heading to a nearby dinner table, the birds will go back to Indiana and reside near a train, Biden said, adding, “Folks, turkey is infrastructure. Peanut Butter and Jelly are going to help build back the Butterball as we move along.”

Presidential turkey pardons are a fairly recent tradition. While contemporary reports suggested that Abraham Lincoln spared a turkey from the dinner table because his son had grown attached to the creature, it was not a formal reprieve meant to start a tradition, historians say.

Harry S. Truman is sometimes credited with starting the tradition, but that’s not true, the Truman Library & Museum contends. He was the first president to receive a bird from the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation, and the government indeed promoted a “poultry-less Thursdays” campaign in 1947. But Truman himself, upon accepting two turkeys in 1947, declared they would “come in handy” for a family Thanksgiving with 25 people.

There was no subtlety to the intended fate of a turkey presented to John F. Kennedy in 1963. Perched on a table on the lawn, the bird had a sign around its neck that said, “Good Eating, Mr. President!” Kennedy returned the turkey to a farm, saying, “Let’s keep him going. We’ll let this one grow.”

It was George H.W. Bush who began the consistent annual tradition of accepting a live turkey, then sparing both the bird and any public discomfort over seeing the “before” version of a first dinner.

“But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy – he’s presented a presidential pardon as of right now – and allow him to live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here,” Bush said in 1989.

Since the fowl tradition became entrenched, presidents have handled it in different ways that say more about the respective presidents than the turkeys, which almost universally gobble while the president is talking.

Bill Clinton in 1993 thanked the noisy turkey for clapping for him and then spent some time connecting with the bird, smoothing its feathers and inviting fourth-graders at the event to come up and meet the pardoned gobblerl.

Barack Obama, 10 months into a difficult first year when he was grappling with a historic fiscal crisis and trying to gain traction for his Affordable Care Act, barely disguised his frustration with having to emcee the event.

“There are certain days I remember why I ran for this office,” Obama said in 2009. “Then there are days when I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland,” where the pardoned turkey, “Courage” was scheduled to appear in a parade the following day.

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