Wednesday, November 21, 2012

President Obama Pardons Cobbler--And Gobbler--At White House Thanksgiving Ceremony

2012 National Turkey is the first to ever be chosen by a Facebook poll: "The only Cobbler anyone’s eating this Thanksgiving will come with a side of ice cream," President says...
President Obama joked his way through the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony on Wednesday afternoon, in high spirits despite an overnight plane ride from Asia.  Flanked by daughters Malia and Sasha as he stood in the breezy Rose Garden under a cloudless blue sky, the President peppered his remarks with references to his reelection as he granted clemency to Cobbler, a 43 pound, 19-week-old Tom turkey raised in Rockingham County, VA, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.  Understudy Gobbler was also granted clemency.  (Above: Cargill's Steve Willardsen holds Cobbler as the President, Sasha and Malia look on)

"They say life is all about second chances," said President Obama. "And this November, I couldn't agree more.  The American people have spoken! And these birds are moving forward!"

"I love this bird," the President added as Cobbler let out a loud gobble.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, and for the first time ever, the Top Tom was chosen by a Facebook poll, dubbed "Thanksgiving Decision 2012" by the White House.  Cobbler trumped Gobbler in a tight race, getting 2,016 "Likes" to Gobbler's 1,767 when the poll closed on Tuesday night.  But both turkeys will be spared the fate of the holiday plate.

"Because of your votes, the only cobbler anyone’s eating this Thanksgiving will come with a side of ice cream," President Obama said. "If Cobbler cannot fulfill his duties as the official White House turkey, Gobbler will be waiting in the wings."

Keeping up the reelection theme, the President referenced a well-known New York Times pollster.

"Once again, Nate Silver completely nailed it," he said.  "The guy is amazing.  He predicted these guys would win."  Silver's mathematical model correctly predicted 2012 electoral results in all 50 states.

Cobbler and Gobbler will live out their lives at President George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, located right outside the nation's Capitol.  They will be ensconced in a special enclosure at the nationally recognized livestock facility, and the President painted a glowing picture of the turkeys' future for the audience of about fifty, who included Craig and Nancy Miller, the farmers who raised this year's Presidential Flock for Cargill Retail Meat Solutions, Inc, as well as acclaimed chef Ming Tsai, who said he traveled from Boston for the ceremony.

“From here, these two lucky birds will be swept up in a whirlwind of fame and fortune that will ultimately lead them to Mount Vernon, where they will spend their twilight years in the historic home of George Washington,” President Obama said, chuckling.

As the President and his daughters moved to the chrysanthemum bedecked table where Cobbler awaited the official pardon with National Turkey Federation chairman Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill, Cobbler flapped his wings and let out a loud gobble, something he'd been doing for the half hour before the ceremony.  Both Malia and Sasha recoiled, laughing, and the President draped an arm around Sasha, encouraging the girls to get closer.  Sasha reluctantly reached out a hand to pat the large turkey, but Malia wanted no part of it all.

As he lifted his hand to grant the official pardon, the President paused for a moment.

"Wait, which--is he, Gobbler or Cobbler?  Cobbler," President Obama said.  "All right, I’ve got to give the special dispensation.

The President waved his hand over the turkey.

"Congratulations, Cobbler.  You have a great life."

The ceremony wasn't all joking, however.  President Obama also mentioned the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and reminded Americans to help those less fortunate this holiday season.

"Countless stories of courage, and compassion, and resilience have emerged in the aftermath of the storm," President Obama said. "And so tomorrow, we give thanks -– not only for the things that we have, or the people we love, but for the spirit that sees us through the toughest times, and holds us together as one American family, guided along our journey by the hope of a better day."

As the ceremony ended, the President moved in to the crowd to shake hands, and gave a wry, "you-know-better" grin when one reporter shouted a question about the newly announced ceasefire in Israel.  The gathered media laughed at the President's response.

After shaking some more hands, the President strode across the Rose Garden and back into the Oval Office, his arms around his daughters' shoulders.  The First Family will celebrate Thanksgiving at the White House on Thursday.  The menu with White House recipes is here.

Cobbler and Gobbler were born on July 13, and were the two top Toms selected from an original Presidential Flock of forty birds the Millers raised in a converted barn they dubbed "the turkey palace."  The two fine fellows spent Monday and Tuesday night at the W hotel in Washington, DC, and held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.   The White House chose their names from a list created by school children in Rockingham County. The National Turkey Federation has been orchestrating the holiday presentations since 1949.  After President George H. W. Bush granted an official pardon in 1989, the practice became an annual ceremony, according to the White House. 

President Obama pardoned North Carolina turkey Courage and his alternate Carolina in 2009;  Californians Apple and alternate Cider in 2010; and Liberty and alternate Peace in 2011.  Liberty is still at Mount Vernon, but Peace was euthanized on Monday after an illness, the Huffington Post reported.

Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, the President and his girls will be delivering dressed turkeys--what he dubbed as "less fortunate birds"-- to a food bank later on Wednesday afternoon, in an annual Thanksgiving community service tradition. UPDATE: A post about the visit.

Click here for more information about Cobbler and Gobbler, including an interview with the Millers.

*Watch this State Department video of White House chefs Cris Comerford and Sam Kass explaining American Thanksgiving traditions.

*The President's 2012 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

*Top photo by chuck Kennedy/White House; other photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama