SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pardoning a Turkey

What kind of country is it that allows the president to pardon a turkey on Thanksgiving? And allows a presidential Turkey to pardon himself by Christmas?

The tradition of gifting the president with a turkey at Thanksgiving began in 1873 when a Rhode Island turkey farmer named Henry Vose presented the first bird. He continued this ritual every year until he died in 1913. With few exceptions (JFK, Nixon), those early drumsticks ended up in the gizzards of the president and his guests.

It wasn’t until 1987 that our current custom began when Ronald Reagan initiated an official pardon of Charlie, a big-breasted white turkey. Instead of being stuffed, trussed and served up on a platter, Charlie fluttered off to a petting zoo.

Apparently Reagan cooked up this idea as a joke to sidetrack questions about whether or not he would consider pardoning Oliver North over the Iran-Contra affair. In 1987, North had yet to be tried for his involvement in the arms for hostages affair, and therefore not eligible for a pardon.

It wasn’t until 2002, when George W. Bush did the one good deed of his presidency by pardoning Katie, the first female turkey. Let’s hear it for Affirmative Action.

Which leads me to wonder what kind of vetting does a turkey have to undergo in order to qualify for a presidential pardon?

According to our Constitution, the president’s power to pardon a turkey is granted by Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, subsection “T” which provides: “The President ... shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for a turkey’s Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment,” which means the turkey has to have been a really, really fowl dude or dudette to get Republicans’ feathers ruffled enough to impeach.

To clarify the matter, I plucked the brains of the best legal scholars in the country and scratched the dirt until they cackled their opinions on turkey pardons. Most agreed that in order to pardon a turkey, he or she must first have been charged and convicted of a crime, say, by pooping in the White House Rose Garden. Or by requesting a back-alley abortion, followed by sterilization, because, well, “Too many flocks in too few months,” Connie said in her defense. “Henry, the alpha male with the big snood, just won’t leave me alone. I’m exhausted all the time.” Or by causing a traffic jam on “K” street. Or by voting illegally in the state of Georgia. Or by chasing down Marine One, the President’s helicopter, and not allowing it to land. Big mistake.

One legal eagle reminded me of an episode of The West Wing. President Bartlet had already pardoned the designated turkey, but when C.J. learned that the alternate turkey was about to be slaughtered, she begged President Bartlet to save him. He reminded her that he could not pardon the turkey since it had committed no crime and, furthermore he had no judicial mandate over birds. So, to spare his life, Bartlet drafted the turkey into military service.

On the matter of whether or not a Presidential Turkey can pardon himself? Well, we’re pretty certain President Bartlet would have never enacted such a fowl decree. By turns, the legal scholars I consulted clucked, squawked and gobbled. On the one hand, er, claw, our Turkey-in-Chief claims the president has the full power to pardon. On the other, he would have to perform a tortured turkey trot to make that claim stick. The prevailing screech seems to be that, yes, he could try it, but, no, it would likely not fly. The rule that “no one is above the law,” would clip Trump’s feathers.

The fact that we’re even talking about this gobbledygook is enough to make one reach for the Tums. What we know for sure is that the idea of the Presidential Turkey pardoning himself is no clucking joke. Trump is one turkey many of us wouldn’t mind seeing plucked, stuffed, trussed, and served up on a platter.

Let the squawks begin.

Rosie Sorenson is a humor writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can contact her at:

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2017

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