Who's the real turkey?
Just a week ago, George Bush chose two turkeys to be spared from being served up as a part of Thanksgiving feast. These turkeys were brought to the Rose Garden and placed on a podium where they flapped around in a mildly bewildered state, shedding feathers and squawking. The enormous birds were so unwieldy they were barely able to steady themselves on their feet -- it was easy to envision them as cartoon characters, plucked and roasting in a large pan. The birds were clueless -- unaware of their supposed good fortune and the fact that, if they were to escape the confines of the White House, they might be mistaken for a non-pardoned turkey and end up on someone's dining table.
The president looked benevolently on at the squawking birds. He had that traditional smirk on his face. After he pardoned them, he patted their heads and told them that they would be honoured guests at a Disneyland parade, and then shipped to a ranch with no poultry factory in sight. It was one of the more pleasant moments of Bush's recent days – good PR without controversy, a couple of lives saved, even if they were only turkeys.
For most people, the story ends here, but the early days of the two turkeys and their ultimate fate seem like the perfect allegory for the Bush regime.
The story began in early spring when about 3,000 male turkeys were hatched on a farm in Henning, Minnesota. Most of the birds were raised to be slaughtered and eaten. For four months they were raised in an air-conditioned barn, on beds of fresh hay and sawdust. At that stage, six or seven of the best turkeys were pinpointed as possible presidential pardon candidates. They were moved to a separate building. They were hand-fed and frequently petted so they could get used to human beings. They grew fatter. Lights were shone on them, they were spoken to. They were even attended to by animal-care workers who wore long-sleeved dark blue overalls to mimic the suits worn by official White House personnel. In other words, they were juiced up to be marketed at the highest level.
A few days before Thanksgiving, the final selection was made. A winner and runner-up were chosen in case the top turkey proved unfit on the day. The four or five other turkeys went back to their original fate, having gone through a sort of Animal Farm tease. It must have been like getting kicked out of the Plaza Hotel and relegated to a shithouse clapboard room.
The night before Thanksgiving, the two “winning” turkeys were taken to the Hotel Washington, overlooking the White House. The following morning they were driven to the Rose Garden in front of the American media and a number of invited guests. After some pomp and circumstance – and a few lousy jokes by Bush – the two turkeys were given an “unconditional presidential pardon”. Everything was heartfelt and rosy. The TV stations beamed the pictures around the world. Virtually every newspaper in the country took a shot off the wires and plastered it on the front page.
The primary turkey was named Honorary Marshall at a Disneyland Thanksgiving parade, then he and his buddy were shipped off to a cosy ranch. Hearts were happy and magnanimous everywhere.
However, visitors to Disneyland will be disappointed to learn that this year's turkeys probably won't last too long. The fact is that these turkeys don't live long at all. Their purpose was to grow fat, show off and then be eaten. Domestic turkeys live, at most, for a year. They grow too large and heavy to carry their own weight.
Hence, each pair of newly pardoned turkeys find themselves with no other previously pardoned turkey to celebrate their good luck with. What a bummer that must be, though maybe not as bad as in previous years, when they were shipped off to a place called, amazingly, Frying Pan Park, in Virginia, where they flopped around and died an ignominious death.
Now, I am not against eating turkey. Nor am I against a pointless presidential ceremony that might give people a bit of good cheer. But this year, I felt confused as to who the real turkey was. During his entire presidency, Bush has feasted on unbridled power supplied to him by a Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives. It has made his political girth quite wide and showed him wobbly on his feet. He certainly squawked a lot too. However, with only two years left in his presidency and a Democrat-controlled Senate and House of Representatives, he has, I hope, politically been put out to pasture.
However, unlike the turkey, his overfeeding, unfortunately, has not been without purpose, or grief, or an influence on larger history. One only wonders what might happen if this particular turkey was pardoned, or even what he might still do in his last few flopping days in the Disneyland of his own invention.