Free as a bird.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 22 2005 12:31 AM

Free As a Bird

Which turkeys will Bush pardon next?

80_thehasbeen

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2005

Stuffed:In a few hours, President Bush will take part in a time-honored Washington ritual that perfectly epitomizes his political plight, and eerily foreshadows what may become a common ritual for the remainder of his term. It's time for him to "pardon the turkey."

Most Thanksgivings, White House aides dread this event because it makes no sense. Just as the rest of the nation starts defrosting their Butterballs and preheating their ovens, the commander in chief lets two birds walk. Then he rushes off to the battlefront to ask the troops whether they want light meat or dark.

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But this year, the Bush team must be wincing for another reason: the irresistible symbolism of a president handing out pardons to two turkeys who did nothing for him, while so many in his own party are drooling to get one for themselves. If any late-night comics are working this week, they'll feast on this for days.

We do not know what these turkeys did to deserve a pardon. All we have to go on is the White House Web site, which says the "2005 National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate" come from Minnesota. Until the ceremony later today, they won't even have names—they're just Turkey A and Turkey B.

The birds were raised under the direction of National Turkey Federation Chairman Pete Rothfork, who "delegated the day-to-day responsibilities" to James and Vicki Trite. The turkeys were fed corn and soybean meal and "a continuous supply of fresh water." Clearly, the Trites are not a CIA operation.

In the past, pardoned turkeys were trucked to Frying Pan Park in nearby Fairfax County, Va., where they became former White House sources for Bob Woodward.

This year, the Bush White House can't take that chance. As soon as Bush signs the papers, these birds are headed to Disneyland.

Tastes Like Chicken: The White House Web site shows it takes a tough staff to spare a tender turkey. For starters, there's Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith, the point person for "sportsmen-related issues." His interview sizzles with enthusiasm (asked the best oil for frying a turkey, he didn't flinch: "Since I'm from Georgia ... I'd have to say peanut oil!") and unsolicited advice (he commends the calming effects of pork loin, rich in tryptophan). Turkey Guy left the White House this summer to run the Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Agriculture Department.

Then there's a photo of Walter Scheib, the White House chef Laura Bush fired earlier this year. His recipes were short on tryptophan. The Web site also highlights Jim Towey, head of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Each year, pardoning the turkey is the biggest achievement on the president's compassionate conservatism agenda.