Carrying on a centuries-old Thanksgiving tradition, President Obama today pardoned the official White House Thanksgiving turkey at a lighthearted ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, thanking both the bird and its alternate for their service before offering special Thanksgiving wishes to the victims of superstorm Sandy and to U.S. forces abroad.
In a thinly-veiled reference to the presidential election, Mr. Obama, joined by his daughters Sasha and Malia for the ceremony, joked that "life is all about second chances, and this November I could not agree more."
"So in the spirit of the season, I have one more gift to give and it goes to a pair of turkeys named Cobbler and Gobbler," he said. Noting that the official White House turkey was selected via a "highly competitive online vote" -- Gobbler was elected to be Cobbler's alternate -- he said: "The American people have spoken and these birds are moving forward."
Striking a more serious note, the president reflected on the holiday as a "chance to spend time with the people we care about and to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy," as well as an opportunity to "remember those who are less fortunate."
"This year that's particularly true for our neighbors in the Northeast who have lost their homes, possessions ,and even their loved ones to Hurricane Sandy," he said.
After issuing the official pardon, he encouraged his daughters to pet the 19-week old, 40-lb bird. Sasha, the younger, complied; giggling, Malia kept her distance.
According to the White House's history of turkey pardons, Americans have been giving the president holiday turkeys since the 1800s. In 1947, the White House started celebrating these gifts in the Rose Garden. Not every president has been in the habit of sparing the turkey's life, however: Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson ate the turkeys presented to them.
According to the White House, today's two birds were raised on the farm of Craig and Nancy Miller of Virginia, under National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen's supervision and in partnership with the Virginia Poultry Federation.
Meantime, asked by CBS News' Bill Plante about the cease-fire announcement in the Gaza strip, the president stopped, looked and smiled, but didn't respond.
The president's real pardons
Today's event brings to eight, the number of turkeys Mr. Obama has "pardoned" since taking office. That's almost a third of the number of real pardons the president has granted.
Mr. Obama issued no pardons until the very end of his second year in office and to date, the number of pardons he's granted stands at 22. That's fewer than any prior president since James Garfield, who granted no pardons during his six months in office before his assassination in September 1881.
According to statistics from the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the U.S. Justice Department, though Mr. Obama has granted 22 pardons and one commutation of sentence since taking office, he has so far denied 1,019 pardon petitions and 3,793 applications for commutations of sentence.
That's one pardon granted for every 46 denied.
Here's how the pardon count compares among Mr. Obama's recent predecessors:
- George W. Bush - 189 pardons (including one withdrawn the day after it was granted)
- Bill Clinton - 396 pardons
- George H. W. Bush - 74 pardons
- Ronald Reagan - 393 pardons
- Jimmy Carter - 534 pardons
- Gerald Ford - 382 pardons
- Richard Nixon - 863 pardons
- Lyndon Johnson - 960 pardons
- John Kennedy - 472 pardons
By far, former President Franklin Roosevelt granted the most pardons: 3,687. Of course he was president for 12 years, longer than any predecessor or successor.
Like Garfield, former President William Harrison also granted no pardons during his term in office.
Among the Founding Fathers, George Washington granted 16 pardons, John Adams, 21, and Thomas Jefferson, 119.