I know it's still early, I know there are many months left to go and the presidential race is bound to inspire countless more bouts of complete loss of perspective, but I'd like to propose that we nonetheless go ahead and award the 2008 Marie "Let Them Eat Cake" Antoinette Memorial Trophy for Total Cluelessness to David and Elizabeth Lawson of West Jordan, Utah.
Nobody is going to top what they did.
And before you go crying favoritism because I am, after all, a fellow Utahn consider the following facts:
On or before May of this year, said Lawsons created an election year novelty called TheSockObama doll, a miniature caricature of presidential candidate Barack Obama, a man of African descent, dressed as a monkey.
In about the space of time that it takes a Jazz fan to boo Dick Bavetta, people were at the Lawsons' door, in a virtual sense, using blogs, e-mails and other Internet postings to call them racists and demand that production of the Barack Obama monkey doll cease and desist.
The toy manufacturer the Lawsons employed to make the sock doll quickly stopped production, recognizing a bad idea when it was spelled out through inflamed outrage.
But the Lawsons? They proclaimed that they do not have a racist bone in their bodies, that they were just having fun and meant no harm.
They went on to decry an America that would jump to such a conclusion. How can a country, they asked, yawn when it sees George W. Bush regularly compared to a chimpanzee and yet get in such an uproar when Barack Obama is styled as a monkey? What kind of double standard is that?
"Isn't this the very definition of hypocrisy?" they wrote in a statement. "Have the bullies won here? Are we saying it's OK to take something out of the marketplace that other people want to buy? Is this the kind of America we want?"
The answers to the above questions are: No, No, Yes, and Yes.
Only if George W. Bush was a black man would it be hypocrisy.
The bullies didn't win, civility won.
Manufacturers recall stuff all the time when they realize it can hurt someone.
Not only do we want this kind of America, we want Americans who understand that the perception of racism can be as harmful and inciting as actual racism.
The Lawsons say they aren't racist. OK, they aren't racist. But that doesn't give them the right to fan the flames of racism by using a caricature that dates back to the days when African-Americans were compared to apes.
This coincided with when African-Americans weren't allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as white people, or stay in the same hotels, or play in the big leagues. It dates back to the days when the Supreme Court voted 7-2 that all blacks, slaves and otherwise, could not become U.S. citizens.
Maybe compare Obama to a dog or a chicken or a donkey or a horse. But not a monkey.
The wounds are too deep. The implications too hateful.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.