OPINION: Annual Turkey Pardoning A White House Tradition

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Jennifer Boswell Pickens White House East Wing historian
Font Size:

While many Americans are still politically divided after the midterm elections, there is a uniquely American tradition at the White House that will hopefully help bring us together, even if just briefly, with this light-hearted ceremony.

The 71st Annual White House Turkey Pardoning originates back to the Great Emancipator himself, President Lincoln. But it has evolved with President George H.W. Bush actually being the first president to pardon the turkey. And his son, George W. Bush started the annual contest of “naming” the presidential turkeys. 

Hopefully, the press corps, politicians, pundits and critics can put a pause on the divisiveness of politics and, in this season, give thanks and enjoy the official act of the turkey pardon in the White House Rose Garden.

This year’s turkeys began their public debut last Wednesday in their hometown of Huron, South Dakota. National Turkey Federation chairman and South Dakotan Jeff Sveen debuted the turkeys during a ceremony at the Huron Area Chamber and Visitors Bureau before their road trip to Washington, D.C. and overnight stay at the legendary Willard Hotel.

Following the ceremony, they will then live out their days at Gobblers Rest at Virginia Tech.

 In 2004, also an election year, President George W. Bush had a lot fun with the process of naming the Turkeys:

This is an election year, and Biscuits had to earn his spot at the White House. Over the past week, thousands of voters cast ballots on the White House website. It was a close race. You might say it was neck-and-neck. When all the votes were in … Biscuits and his running mate, Gravy prevailed over the ticket of Patience and Fortitude. The Vice President and I are here to congratulate Biscuits for a race well run. It came down to a few battleground states. It was a tough contest, and it turned out some 527 organizations got involved — including barnyard Animals for Truth. There was a scurrilous film that came out, ‘Fahrenheit 375 Degrees at 10 Minutes Per Pound.’ Now it’s a time for healing.

The annual tradition is meant to be fun and not taken too seriously, which is rare in the stiffness of Washington. In 2013, President Obama joked, “The office of the presidency, the most powerful position in the world, brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities,” he said as one of the turkeys strutted around the stage next to him. “This is not one of them.”

Even President Trump humorously quipped last year, “As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor. However, I have been informed by the White House Counsel’s Office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot, under any circumstances, be revoked. So we’re not going to revoke them. So, Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.”

What started as good publicity for the National Turkey Federation has become a much-loved White House tradition. During the ceremony presidents often remind the country on the importance of celebrating our American Thanksgiving holiday.

This year, as in years past, President Trump has an opportunity to have fun, lighten the mood and bring the country together by reminding us about all of our blessings to live in this country. And we do have a lot to be thankful for.

Not everything is a partisan issue. A good economy, low unemployment, men and women serving and protecting us at home and abroad, and a peaceful, non-violent transfer of political power through a tough midterm election are things we should celebrate together.

President Trump was right when he said “I would like to take a moment to extend our very heartfelt special message: Thanks. Thanks, folks — to the finest and bravest people in the entire world, our great men and women in uniform: the military, law enforcement, first responders. These are incredible people. So, thank you.

This Thursday, as we give thanks for our cherished loved ones, let us also renew our bonds of trust, loyalty and affection between our fellow citizens as members of a proud national family of Americans.”  

There is a mystique about the presidency and our White House traditions and this fun event. The annual White House Turkey Pardoning can play a small but important role in uniting every American around a good cause in 2018, thankfulness.   

Jennifer Boswell Pickens (@JenniferPickens) is a White House East Wing historian with an expertise in White House traditions, social events and first ladies. She is the author of two books, Christmas at the White House and Pets at the White House.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.