When the West Jordan couple who planned to make a sock monkey in the likeness of Barack Obama apologized and announced they had canceled the idea, they blamed their own naivete and said they hadn't intended to hurt or anger anyone. And while it may be difficult to believe anyone could be unaware of the historic uses of monkeys to symbolize blacks as inferior, the move seemed heartfelt and sincere.
But what followed was a sad commentary, in different ways, on modern America.
The Lawsons issued a long statement that seemed to blame everyone but themselves. "Free enterprise," the statement said, "has been censored."
Actually, blame should go to the free marketplace of ideas. Censorship implies some official action by a government or a quasi-governmental organization. In this case, public outrage applied pressure on the Lawsons, who apparently perceived they would cause more harm than good by proceeding. Freedom is not without consequences. That is how it should be.
But the Lawsons didn't stop there. In a leap to demonstrate the public's hypocrisy, they noted how many Web sites exist that draw comparisons between President Bush and a chimpanzee. We don't doubt the accuracy of that claim. The Internet is full of a lot of nasty things. But that hardly justifies the creation of one more thing many perceive as nasty.
The other side of this is equally disturbing. The Lawsons apparently have had to endure a lot of bullying from people on the Internet. These have included death threats and threats of violence similar to what the Ku Klux Klan would have administered. Anyone who spends time reviewing blog posts, reactions on YouTube or any of thousands of other ways to express opinion on the Internet knows such behavior is rampant. The anonymity of cyberspace emboldens idiots and reveals true character, even if it doesn't reveal their names.
But none of this is an excuse for manufacturing a doll that many perceive as degrading and racist.
This has been, in many ways, a revealing presidential race. Americans have had to confront themselves and decide just how tolerant they truly are. They have had to decide whether that tolerance includes religion, gender and race. They also have had to consider what it means to truly get beyond those old barriers.
We hope the Lawsons don't pursue efforts to revive the Obama monkey. By letting it die, they wouldn't be giving in to bullies. They would be conceding to discretion.