Obama lets bad puns fly at Turkey pardoning tinged with sadness

US president puts aside the jokes at annual Thanksgiving event to defend his legacy

President Obama vows to continue the turkey pardon tradition as he spares 'Tater' and 'Tot' from the Thanksgiving table at the White House. Video: REUTERS

US president Barack Obama officially pardoned two turkeys on Wednesday, in an oddly mournful replaying of a White House Thanksgiving ritual that not even his daughters attended.

Standing in for the president's two daughters were two nephews, Austin Robinson (6) and Aaron Robinson (4) "who, unlike Malia and Sasha, have not yet been turned cynical by Washington", Mr Obama joked. "They still believe in bad puns. They still appreciate the grandeur of this occasion. They still have hope."

At the mention of “hope,” the crowd in the Rose Garden – made up of family and friends getting perhaps one last visit to the White House grounds – grew quiet, and Mr Obama’s staff, gathered along the nearby colonnade, looked grim.

US president Barack Obama stands with his nephews, Aaron Robinson and Austin Robinson, before he pardons the national Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Mr Obama has spent much of the last two weeks as a kind of crisis counsellor, trying to persuade his staff and Hillary Clinton’s supporters that Donald Trump’s victory will not spell disaster for Mr Obama’s priorities or the nation.


And on Wednesday, the president was at his this-will-all-be-all-right best. The occasion was one of those somewhat odd White House traditions that become enshrined on the calendar in part because nobody quite knows how to kill them.

The notion that a pardon given to two turkeys out of 46 million slaughtered for the Thanksgiving holiday should be some kind of feel-good event has always felt a bit off. Mr Obama has long papered over the awkwardness with a speech peppered with puns.

But with his legacy on the chopping block this year, even a few puns could not dispel the feeling of a New Orleans funeral – celebratory but with an underlying sadness. "I know there are some bad ones in here, but this is the last time I'm doing this, so we're not leaving any room for leftovers," Mr Obama said to some laughter.

Putting aside the jokes, Mr Obama spent part of his speech trumpeting his administration’s accomplishments on jobs, housing and health care. It was a mini-stump speech that most in the crowd had heard many times, but they clapped with gusto nonetheless.

“That’s worth gobbling about,” Mr Obama said. Then he grew sombre and gave one of what will be many goodbyes. “On this Thanksgiving, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the American people for the trust that you’ve placed in me over these last eight years and the incredible kindness that you’ve shown my family,” Mr Obama said. “On behalf of Michelle, and my mother-in-law and our girls, we want to thank you so very, very much.”

He then dismissed the crowd with one last stab at good wordplay, saying, “And so let’s get on with the pardoning, because it’s Wednesday afternoon and everybody knows that Thanksgiving traffic can put everybody in a foul mood.”

New York Times