Did you know that the turkey pardoned by the president then gets shipped off to Disneyland or Disney World to lead the Thanksgiving parade? (It seems like short notice — maybe they only pardon turkeys who can already twirl a baton.) I didn't, but that's because I haven't thought about turkey pardoning nearly as deeply as Michael P. Branch, who has an awesome essay about the phenomenon in Orion magazine.
Branch provides historical background on the turkey-pardoning rigmarole, including a destined-to-be-immortal Obama quote: "There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland." He also has some suggestions for how PETA could turn the situation to their advantage, instead of being a bunch of crotchety grumps like usual:
[H]ere, perhaps, is a useful rule of thumb for animal-rights activists: if George W. Bush and a turkey are more entertaining than you are, it can hardly be surprising that your client is headed for decapitation. With a little creativity, such activists might dramatize their objections in ways that would be more in the spirit of the event. How about staging a parody of the turkey pardoning in which a PETA activist, costumed as a giant turkey, pardons Dubya for his misdeeds?
At the end, the essay takes a surprisingly thoughtful turn, musing on human hubris and our ways of coexisting with animals:
I wonder if there is some relationship between our presumption of power and this desire to pardon—even the desire to pardon an innocent, feathered, nonhuman being. I wonder if perhaps we have a vague sense that it is some guilt of our own that must be assuaged: that we, whose power has so often been used to judge, might ourselves be redeemed by some corollary power to forgive, that exoneration might at the eleventh hour become the bright shadow of a looming condemnation.
This is well worth Instapapering for a Thanksgiving read, to try to shake your brain free of the effects of one of the less-fortunate turkeys.