Lobbying Your Thanksgiving

What would Thanksgiving be without the Presidential Pardoning of the Turkey in the White House Rose Garden? On November 21, President Biden pardoned, Chocolate and Chip, two very lucky and pampered turkeys from North Carolina. President Biden applauded Chocolate and Chip for their “…temperament and commitment to being productive members of society….” Chocolate and Chip will go on to live their best lives in North Carolina. So, where does the Turkey Pardon tradition come from, and why does this matter?

According to the official White House History website, in 1863, former President Abraham Lincoln was the first president to pardon a turkey. Typically when turkeys were presented to the president by poultry lobbying organizations, the turkeys were not pardoned. This is tracabel to the 1870s. Some argue the official turkey presentation dates back to 1947 under former President Harry Truman. Over the 20th century, the fate of the turkeys morphed into the turkey pardon we know and love today. Former President George H.W. Bush was the first president to formally pardon the presented turkey. Former President Ronald Reagan let the turkeys go, and H.W. officially pardoned a turkey.

Since then, the president has pardoned a turkey or two and used the quirky tradition as a photo-op. President Biden discussed his party’s surprise success in the midterms and joked about the red wave that never was. Photo-ops and honoring ceremonials, no matter how quirky or serious, are important to a president because politics is all about the image and the message. The president has a chance to relax and let his personality show through, thus building a relationship with the people while also showing respect for the office. Sometimes it’s ok for the president to have a little fun and lighten up!

Chocolate and Chip were gifted to the President by the National Turkey Federation, a lobbying organization. The turkeys always came from poultry-special interest groups. Poultry lobbying and business engage in a back and forth with each other and the government regarding regulations over the poultry industry. According to Politico, union leaders opposed privatizing the turkey industry, whereas Big Turkey executives pushed for privatizing to deregulate and produce more turkeys for the American public. While there is still debate, regulations were lifted, but some oversight remained, thus saving about $90 million from 2014–2017, according to Politico. The National Turkey Federation currently gifts the presidential turkeys, and according to Legistorm, the National Turkey Federation has welcomed Democrats and Republicans from the revolving door. However, they appear more right-leaning. According to OpenSecrets, in 2022, the NTF had $105,000 in lobbying expenditures. Other poultry lobbying firms exist, and the NTF does not operate independently. But combined, Big Poultry intensely lobbies for less government regulation and more privatization.

Well, won’t your Thanksgiving have enough political hubbub anyways? Just remember, the next time you watch the turkey pardon, how silly politics can be, but also how important the silliness is. As for Big Turkey, perhaps that will provide you with some investigative work and help figure out where you stand on government regulations, money in politics, and lobbying. If nothing else, just remember how ridiculous politics can be and imagine Honest Abe pardoning a turkey instead of yelling at your crazy uncle over the turkey on the table.

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