Joined by daughters Sasha and Malia, the president jokingly began his remarks with references to the recently concluded presidential campaign.
“They say that life is all about second chances. And this November, I could not agree more,” said Obama to slight laughter. “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. The American people have spoken, and these birds are moving forward.”
“In the last few weeks, I had a chance to visit both New Jersey and New York. And while I’ve seen entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and heartbreaking loss and devastation, I have yet to find a broken spirit,” he said.
The president also recognized members of the military serving overseas and called on all Americans to remember the less fortunate during the holiday season.
After the official pardon, a member of the press yelled out, “Mr. President, can you comment on the cease-fire in the Middle East?”
Obama seemed the acknowledge the question with a smile, but continued walking without a response.
This year, for the first time the public was given the opportunity to vote for which turkey would participate in the Rose Garden event. The White House announced on Tuesday a Facebook page where people had the opportunity to pick between Cobbler and Gobbler, both 19-week old, 40-pound turkeys.
Voters opted for Cobbler, who took part in the ceremony as the 2012 National Thanksgiving Turkey, while Gobbler was relegated to understudy status.
Cobbler and Gobbler were raised on the farm of Craig and Nancy Miller near Harrisonburg, Va. and chosen from a group of forty birds by National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen, who participated in the ceremony. Two birds are brought to Washington, D.C. in case one is “unable to perform the duties of the National Thanksgiving Turkey.”
Both birds will be driven to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, where they will be on display through Jan. 6th as part of a special program, “Christmas at Mount Vernon.” The turkeys will then live out their days in a custom-made enclosure at Mount Vernon’s livestock facility.
However, their days may be numbered. A turkey raised such as Cobbler typically lives two years, according to Peggy Albertson of the National Turkey Federation.
The 2011 alternate turkey, Peace, died just before this Thanksgiving, said Rebecca Aloisi, vice president for Marketing at George Washington's Mount Vernon.
“Peace fell very ill over the weekend and was humanely euthanized on Monday. Liberty continues to thrive, eating enthusiastically and constantly chattering,” said Aloisi in an e-mail.
The 2010 turkeys, Apple and Cider also died after having suffered respiratory and foot infections shortly after arriving at Mount Vernon.
The turkeys represent a major industry in the United States. At least $8 billion was spent by in the United States on turkey in 2011, according to Bob Young, the chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Approximately 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving, compared to 22 million on Christmas and 19 million on Easter, according to the National Turkey Federation. The turkey industry advocate notes that 88 percent of Americans say they eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
Despite a request from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to forgo what it called an “outdated” tradition, Obama went ahead as planned with the pre-Thanksgiving Day ceremony.
The animal rights group sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday demanding that Obama skip the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, calling the ceremony “outdated” and accusing the president of being in partnership with the "turkey-killing industry."
PETA also objected to the idea that the birds could be pardoned, arguing "they are not guilty of anything other than being born into a world of prejudice."
Turkey pardoning dates back to the days of President Abraham Lincoln, when it’s said that his son Tad convinced Lincoln to spare the turkey bound for the Christmas dinner table, according to the White House. Presidents Kennedy and Nixon both allowed turkeys to live. However, it wasn’t until Nov. 14, 1989 that the first official presidential pardon was given to a turkey by President George H.W. Bush.
Bush announced that year’s bird had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”
— Produced and reported by Adele Hampton and Geneva Sands. Justin Sink contributed.