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Friday, December 1, 2023

‘Congratulations, birds’: Biden brings the jokes as he pardons Thanksgiving turkeys | Joe Biden

He had his turn at the White House, made all the right noises and now, getting on a bit, is heading for a quiet retirement.

Sadly for the millions of voters who tell opinion pollsters they want him to make way for someone younger, it is not Joe Biden, but a turkey named Liberty who is about to put his feet up.

The US president spent part of his 81st birthday on Monday observing the White House tradition of pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys. Liberty received executive clemency along with another gobbler named Bell.

After their moment in the sun, Liberty and Bell will be returned to their home state to be cared for by the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences. Biden, meanwhile, will continue to wrestle with two intractable wars, turmoil at the border and a bitterly divided nation.

While past presidents have used this occasion to tell dad jokes, Biden did grandad jokes. His seven-minute remarks on the White House south lawn on a crisp Monday were light on the puns favoured by Barack Obama that made his daughters cringe, or the funny-not-funny gags about pardons made by Donald Trump that made the nation cringe. But they were heavy on self-deprecating references to Biden’s age, enough to elicit groans from any campaign aides who still believe the subject can be dodged.

The president thanked the chair of the National Turkey Federation and said when he met him and his family earlier, they sang “Happy Birthday”. America’s first octogenarian president quipped: “I just want you to know it’s difficult turning 60. Difficult.”

He laughed at his own joke.

The tradition dates to 1947 when the federation, which represents turkey farmers and producers, first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman. Biden joked: “This is the 76th anniversary of this event. I want you to know I wasn’t there [for] the first one; I was too young to make it up.”

He laughed at his own joke again and then, a little uneasily, laughed some more. This was not vintage comedy.

The president had rambled about being used to chickens in Delaware. Nodding to the derivation of their names from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, he suggested the 20-week-old, 42lb birds have a new appreciation for the words “Let Freedom Ring”. Turning to the turkeys’ home, Minnesota, he said he would like see them play ice hockey.

Things really went downhill when Biden said the turkeys beat tough odds and competition to reach the White House, comparing the feat to getting tickets to Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour or Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour but calling the latter Britney, presumably confusing Swift with Britney Spears.

“They had to work hard to show patience and be willing to travel over a thousand miles. You could say it’s even harder than getting a ticket to the Renaissance tour or – or Britney’s tour. She’s down in … it’s kind of warm in Brazil right now.”

In short, this is a president who flies into war zones but he failed the Swiftie test.

The scene at the White House on Monday.
The scene at the White House on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

There was mystified silence from Biden’s audience, including a group of schoolchildren, who might have been thinking there goes grandpa again. The internet may have crashed as Republican operatives and rightwing media types scrambled to post the clip. Things could only have got worse if the president’s bitey German shepherd, Commander, had shown up with a taste for turkey.

One of the gobblers was then brought to a podium decorated with pumpkins and autumnal colours. “That’s a big bird, man, I’m impressed,” Biden observed, raising his right hand and declaring: “I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell! All right. Congratulations, birds.”

There were cheers from a crowd of a couple of hundred people including transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg and family. Biden concluded “on a serious note” about Thanksgiving – “we have so much to be thankful for as a nation” – and went to greet the schoolchildren as a band played jolly festive tunes. Asked by a reporter if a hostage deal is near in Israel, he replied, “I believe so,” and crossed his fingers.

A few minutes later he broke into a half-trot and went inside, back to a world of cares and likely election rematch with Trump. No one seemed to have thought about bringing him a birthday cake. Perhaps they feared it would look bad for Biden in those corners of the media where 81 candles are an impeachable offence but 91 indictments? Not so much.

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