Paul Jacob

In Washington, we can always expect the triumph of symbolism over substance, the emblematic turkey over the actual Meleagris gallopavo. Even when it comes to something as globally insignificant as whether the president of the United States feasts on turkey or, instead, pardons the large bird selected for such favor by the National Turkey Federation.

In usual capitol fashion, last week, our president had it both ways. In front of his daughters, the media and the viewing public, President Obama pardoned the turkey presented to him. And then, behind closed doors, devoured that poor turkey’s second cousin after having someone else murder the fowl in cold blood.

I don’t take issue with consuming meat. And most certainly animals are better eaten when dead, and cooked, as opposed to still alive and wiggling. Even my beloved sushi is at least not still moving.

Nor do I take issue with pardoning the holiday bird. It seems like a kind thing to do. In fact, I’ve long wondered why presidents don’t make more use of their pardon power. Why limit it to cheesy photo-ops with innocent poultry and backdoor deals with criminal subordinates? Why not pardon innocents on death row and those myriads more, sequestered throughout our American gulag? And without any bribe money changing hands.

It seems awfully disingenuous to ostentatiously pardon a turkey on national television, on the one hand, only to kill and consume another turkey behind closed doors, on the other leg.

In fact, it’s almost as blatantly hypocritical as passing sweeping health care legislation, with claims that the legislation will save money by making $600 billion worth of cuts to Medicare, while at the very same time signing a “doctor’s fix,” which nullifies the savings previously promised in Medicare.

One more bit of clarification: This is not a problem we can dump on the feet of Obama. Ever since Barack Obama began serving what amounts to George W. Bush’s third term, he has been unfairly blamed for lurching toward socialism — as Colbert King points out in yesterday’s Washington Post. The truth? Obama has merely embraced and continued and turbo-charged the leaps toward socialism begun by the second President Bush (and presidents and Congresses before him).

And note, in fairness, that this phony poultry pardoning routine is also borrowed from past administrations — in one report going back to the first President Bush, officially, and back to John F. Kennedy in practice.

Am I making a mountain of dressing out of a molehill of cranberry sauce?

Perhaps, but the truth remains that the politicians who run our federal government are as two-faced as Dorian Gray. They publicly trot out visages as if from Grant Wood and Norman Rockwell, while privately exhibiting Francisco Goya and Hieronymous Bosch.

Our federal solons told us we had no choice but to make the sacrifice of waging two wars, but then refused to propose any sacrifice to pay for the wars — either by cutting any other spending that might upset politically important factions or to suggest a tax hike that would most certainly upset us all. They have the ill-conceived “courage” to instead send the bills to children as yet un-conceived.

Presidents Obama and Clinton correctly chose, in my view, to send their children to extremely expensive private schools. But I am troubled by the fact they both opposed allowing less well-to-do parents use of their tax dollars to opt for a better private school for their children.

Or what about the recent controversy over airport scanners and TSA pat-downs (otherwise known as pornography and sexual molestation)? The public is subjected to these assaults on our liberties, but high-ranking government officials are, of course, exempt from such indignities.

We might as well add rank hypocrisy to Washington’s holiday traditions. But it runs deeper than symbolic acts at symbolic times. It’s not just about turkey gobblers, gobblers of turkey, and the paucity of vegans in the White House.

Still, it would be great to have a president who would slaughter, stuff, roast and eat the bird — or, if granting a pardon, go vegetarian.

Now, pass the cornbread.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.