For pardoning gift turkey, president gets clawed

MIKE ROYKO

November 30, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

Losing a job can be tough for anyone. And in some ways, it' even worse for George Bush.

When most people get the boot, they clean out their desk or locker, say so long to their friends and up yours to the boss, and go home or to the nearest bar.

But because we have this long transition period, Bush has to stick around the White House for a couple of months and be gawked at by the press.

They note that he looks glum, weary and listless. Well, why not? Being fired by 62 million people has to be a downer.

Even worse, he's expected to go through the motions of being president until Bill or Hillary are sworn in. But unless a war breaks out, that means he has almost nothing to do except the silly ceremonial stuff.

And the other day he performed one of those chores. It was the traditional Thanksgiving appearance.

What happens is that some turkey farm presents the White House with a turkey the size of small horse.

The president goes into the Rose Garden and makes an inspirational talk for some schoolchildren, the White House staff and the press.

Then he announces that the big gift turkey will not be used for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, it will be donated to a petting zoo.

The tradition of pardoning the gift turkey is believed to have started with Jimmy Carter and has continued since. Before then, presidents just said: "Yumm-yumm, off with its head," or some such thing.

This act of mercy delights the children and is a relief to the White House kitchen staff, which would have to do the dirty work. And it's a matter of indifference to the press, which thinks nothing of beheading politicians, so why should it worry about a big, dumb bird?

You would think that something as innocuous as this ceremony -- a tired, dispirited, lame-duck president sparing the life of a turkey -- would attract hardly any attention, much less cause controversy.

But we are in the age of political correctness, when almost anything a person does -- even nothing -- is enough to cause some special interest group to get huffy.

And it happened with the turkey.

No sooner did Bush issue his presidential pardon when he came under attack from not one but two sets of blabber-mouths.

First came someone named Robin Walker, who is a spokescreature for an outfit called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Ms. Walker said that sparing the life of that one turkey wasn't enough.

"You can't hide the 45 million dead turkeys behind a presidential pardon of one bird," she said.

"The reality is that 45 million birds will be killed to celebrate Thanksgiving. We can celebrate this family tradition with compassion and that means not eating a bird. It's time for Americans to adopt a compassion diet."

Ms. Walker had hardly finished when another blast came from someone named Mark LaRochelle, the spokescreature for an outfit called Putting People First, which is engaged in philosophical warfare with the animal rights activists.

He criticized Bush for pardoning that one turkey, saying: "There is a very old tradition of eating turkeys. Sending them to petting zoos seems to disparage the poultry farmers. . . . It is a little hypocritical that the president then goes out and eats a turkey which somebody else had to slaughter. The message it's sending is very negative."

So on the one hand, we have Ms. Walker the turkey lover saying that the president should have issued a pardon to the 45 million turkeys that we will eat.

That strikes me as being impractical. You spare the lives of 45 million turkeys and what is going to become of them? They have no value alive, so they will be set free. Then this country will be overrun by turkeys. We will have turkeys everywhere. Is Ms. Walker prepared to take care of 45 million homeless turkeys?

The next step would be for some turkey-loving activists to demand that Congress fund programs to build homeless turkey shelters or to provide training for turkeys to become peacocks.

On the other hand, we have this meat-eating fellow Mark LaRochelle griping about one turkey being spared and accusing Bush of hypocrisy for eating a turkey that someone else dispatched.

Well, what would this Mark LaRochelle have Bush do? Maybe whip out an ax right there in the Rose Garden and lop off the turkey's head? History probably won't be kind to him anyway, but should he be remembered as the Turkey Splitter?

And what about the children in the Rose Garden and watching on TV? It would send them into shock, which would open Bush up to millions of dollars in lawsuits by their parents.

xTC This is an example of the loony age we live in. Give one turkey a break and you're caught in a cross fire between the tofu-eaters and the flesh-chompers.

But maybe it gave Bush material for a Thanksgiving table prayer. Something like: "Lord, thank you for this bountiful blessing. And, after giving it further thought, thank you for getting me out of this goofy job. Who needs it?"

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