Hail to the grandpa-in-chief!
With important legislation under his belt, Republicans in disarray and Vladimir Putin in retreat, Joe Biden is looking pleased with himself and ready for family time.
On Saturday he hosted the wedding of his granddaughter, Naomi Biden, on the White House South Lawn. On Sunday he was at family brunch to celebrate his 80th birthday.
So if it’s Monday, it must be the annual pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey, complete with “God love yas” and grandad jokes.
“It’s a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition here at the White House,” America’s first octogenarian president said as he welcomed turkeys Chocolate and Chip on the South Lawn. “There’s a lot to say about it, but it’s chilly outside, so I’m going to keep this short. Nobody likes it when their turkey gets cold!”
People laughed politely. Looking over at the gobblers, Biden added: “I don’t know if they’re mad yet or not.”
The White House tradition of issuing a presidential pardon to keep a pair of turkeys off the holiday dinner table goes back 75 years – almost as long as Biden himself. This time the gobblers were named Chocolate and Chip, a nod to the president’s favorite ice-cream flavor.
The short ceremony in crisp sunshine was punctuated by the sound of Chocolate and Chip gobbling and of Biden’s pet dog, Commander, barking from the Truman balcony (where two of his young grandchildren were also watching).
“I was worried if he came down here with all of you, he’d just do nothing but kiss you and lick you,” the president said. “But he may go after the turkeys, so I kept him up there.”
Earlier, as a band played Hail to the Chief, Biden walked out with trademark shades and an appreciable spring in his step. The perennial nearly man of American politics – he ran for president twice and lost twice before 2020 – has shown the world that old dogs can learn new tricks.
His fans say he has passed the most consequential legislation since President Lyndon Johnson, and in a narrowly divided Congress to boot. They point to his rallying of western governments against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is failing miserably. And Biden’s emphasis on democracy and abortion rights appeared to pay off in the midterm elections as Democrats retained the Senate.
Even his turkey pardoning outdid Barack Obama and Donald Trump who used to hold the ceremony in the Rose Garden. This time it was on the South Lawn watched by hundreds of people including students from a Washington middle school. No doubt Trump will insist that his turkey pardoning drew the biggest crowd ever.
Noting that Chocolate won a public poll with Chip as his backup, Biden remarked: “First of all, the votes are in. They’ve been counted and verified. There’s no ballot stuffing. There’s no fowl play. The only red wave this season is going to be if a German shepherd, Commander, knocks over the cranberry sauce on our table.”
That one got applause.
But there was also some Bidenesque awkwardness after he approached Chocolate the turkey on a table surrounded by pumpkins. A politician accused of being overly tactile down the years stroked the bird and talked to it: “Chocolate, you are pardoned. You are pardoned. He said, ‘You had to tell me that?’ Yeah. Yeah, you are. Yeah. I’m serious. He said, ‘I don’t know, man. You didn’t have to pardon me. I knew I was pardoned.’”
Then things got weirder as he asked Ronald Parker, chairman of the National Turkey Federation, how many turkeys he was raising. Parker said Circle S Ranch grows about 9.5 million turkeys a year.
Biden replied: “God love ya. Nine and a half million turkeys. I tell you what. That’s like some of the countries I’ve been to. And the – anyway.” That train of thought wasn’t going anywhere so he pivoted to Chocolate: “Do you want to talk?”
The turkey declined to comment.
Chocolate and Chip were hatched in July in Monroe, North Carolina, according to the National Turkey Federation, sponsor of the turkey tradition that dates to 1947 and President Harry Truman.
Each weighing nearly 50lb, the gobblers arrived in Washington on Saturday night from North Carolina and checked into their room at the Willard hotel near the White House to await Monday’s presidential decree. They are both set to live the rest of their natural lives on the campus of North Carolina State University.
Biden concluded on a serious note, encouraging Americans to get coronavirus and flu vaccines head of the holiday season. He could not resist a bit of campaign trail rhetoric: “Folks, let’s remember – all the political fighting that goes on that you read about – let’s remember one thing: this is the United States of America – the United States of America. There’s not a single, solitary thing beyond our capacity as a nation – nothing beyond our capacity – if we do it together, united. United!”
And with that, the sound of gobbling marked the passing of another year. American democracy is still alive and so is Joe Biden.