by Walter Brasch
President Bush, as has every president since his father began the practice in 1989, annually pardons a Thanksgiving turkey. Amid hundreds of spectators, most of them members of the media, the president makes a few cute comments, issues a pardon for the turkey and a “runner-up” (in case the Main Bird can’t fulfill all the duties), and then sends the turkeys off to a petting zoo or ranch, where they live about a year.
Why they live only a year is because domestic turkeys are bred to become so pleasingly plump so quickly that disease takes over their bodies if not slaughtered. A domestic turkey has a 26 week life span; wild turkeys, if not killed by natural predators, have a 12 year life span.
Why domestic turkeys have to be “pardoned” is another matter. The birds did nothing wrong, nothing illegal. All they did was to be born and be turkeys. But, the entire ceremony is a good PhotoOp for the president, while encouraging the sale of turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. Americans will eat about 46 million turkeys this Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation.
The Federation first gave Harry Truman a bird in 1947. While most media declare that was the beginning of the pardons, there’s no evidence that Truman did anything other than eat turkey for Thanksgiving. In 1963, days before he was murdered, John F. Kennedy chose to spare the life of the turkey he was presented, but did not grab the salivating media to watch him “pardon” a turkey. The Federation gives each president a live turkey and two dressed ones.
And now comes a turkey disguised as a human. While most turkeys might be offended at the comparison, “turkey” might be the best way to describe Gov. Sarah Palin.
The former Republican VP nominee, at home in Wasilla, Alaska, went to the Triple-D farm, Thursday, accompanied by a willing press corps. There, she declared, apparently in all sincerity and unaware of the great irony, “I, Governor Sarah Palin, friend to all creatures great and small.” Yes, the same Sarah Palin who recently cooked moose chili while being interviewed on TV, who regularly kills animals, who approves the killing of wolf pups in their dens, who sees nothing wrong with violating every “fair chase” rule of hunting by encouraging aerial hunting. That Sarah Palin.
But, her “pardon” actually gets even more outrageous. She said she was pardoning the turkey because it was almost the national bird, that “it is not at all clear that this turkey even had a trial, let alone a fair trial by a jury of his or her peers,” and that Alaska doesn’t have a death penalty. So far, except for her squeaky unmodulated voice and lack of complete sentences, combined with the chortle her line about “friend of all creatures” must have provoked, no harm no foul.
And then she walked outside the pen into the fresh air and sunlight. While a KTUU-TV reporter interviewed her about returning to Alaska, behind the governor, and clearly visible to the camera, a worker was feeding turkeys into a metal funnel grinder, and grinning at the TV camera. The videographer told Palin what was happening behind her shoulder; her response was “No worries,” as she continued the three-minute interview, upstaged the entire time by the worker and the slaughter.
During the interview, she explained she went to the Triple-D farm to help promote local business, and because , “You need a little bit of levity in this job.” Near the end of the interview, she acknowledged she was a controversial figure, and threw out an off-hand comment about the work being done behind her: “Certainly we’ll probably invite criticism for even doing this too but at least this was fun.” It certainly wasn’t “fun” for the turkeys.
Although most Americans have no problem with eating meat, the scene that Sarah Palin willingly became a part showed not just ineptness but insensitivity.
“The word ‘turkey,’” said Sarah Palin, is “considered a term of endearment in casual conversation.” There is no way that referring to Sarah Palin as a turkey can be misconstrued to be a “term of endearment.”
[Dr. Brasch is the author of the recently-published Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com, bn.com, and numerous independent and chain stores. He is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org]