WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama dished out some final Thanksgiving puns Wednesday as he performed the ceremonial White House task of pardoning turkeys.
Obama was joined at the Rose Garden ceremony by his two young nephews, Austin and Aaron Robinson, as opposed to his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, whom, he said, “just couldn’t take my jokes anymore — they were fed up.” He then spoke about turning from “polls to poultry” in carrying out the tradition.
This year, the two lucky birds, named Tater and Tot, came to Washington by way of Iowa.
Obama, however, said the tradition wouldn’t end for him personally after he leaves the presidency, or, as he put it, he wouldn’t be quitting “cold turkey.”
Or, put another way, “Yes, we cran,” the President cracked at one point.
Some other presidential puns:
“Let’s get this thing over with because everybody knows that Thanksgiving traffic can put everybody in a fowl mood.”
And: “I do I want to take a moment to recognize the great turkeys who weren’t so lucky, who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom. Who met their fate with courage and sacrifice and proved that they weren’t chicken.”
A nostalgic Obama also thanked the American people on behalf of his family for placing their trust in him, reminding Americans, “We have a lot more in common than divides us.”
Longtime presidential tradition
Tater and Tot join a long line of Presidential turkeys: Rumors of turkey pardons go back in presidential history as far as the Lincoln administration. Folklore has it that Lincoln’s young son asked his father to spare a pet turkey that was supposed to be part of their Thanksgiving dinner.
However, in established history, the National Turkey Federation has been the official turkey supplier to the first family since 1947. The turkey pardon ceremony has been around since President Harry Truman. Truman was the first to accept a turkey from them — however, he did not spare the bird.
The first documented turkey pardon was given by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Pardoning the turkeys didn’t catch on right away. Even though President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon, neither one of them decided to officially pardon any turkeys.
Turkey pardoning became the norm in the White House in 1989. President George H.W. Bush revived the tradition that has seen become a staple of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Tater and Tot were raised in Northwest Iowa on the Domino family farm. The National Turkey Federation provided the farm with 25 six-week old turkeys in August, according to the Iowa Farm Bureau.
The 25 turkeys enjoyed a plush upbringing, receiving hand feedings, baths, and soft rock music. But it wasn’t all “Iowa Nice”: the flock was whittled from 25 to 10, and the 10 received “podium practice,” per the Farm Bureau, much like the Iowa caucuses.
In the end, two 18 week-old birds emerged victorious from the Hawkeye State and were named by local schoolchildren: Tater, weighing in at 40 pounds, 2 ounces, and Tot, a healthy 39 pounds, 8 ounces.
Then, it was America’s choice. Ballots were cast via Twitter: 51% for Team Tot, 49% for Team Tater.
But the polls (all of them) were wrong.
Obama deemed Tater the TOTUS-elect: Turkey of the United States. Tot served as the alternate turkey.
The two will take a victory lap at their new permanent home at Virginia Tech’s “Gobblers Rest” exhibit, where, per the White House, they will be cared for by students and veterinarians in the university’s Animal and Poultry Sciences Department.