His 15 minutes of fame began innocently Sunday afternoon when President Obama made an unscheduled campaign stop at Van Duzer’s business, Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Restaurant, in Fort Pierce, Fla. In an instant, Van Duzer became a national sensation.
That’s what happens when you bear-hug a president — and the president lives to tell about it.
A hefty, muscle-bound man and a registered Republican, Van Duzer was so excited over the president’s visit that he wrapped his arms around the 175-pound Obama and gave him a squeeze that lifted him off the ground. (For what it’s worth, Van Duzer says he voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to again in November.)
A photograph of that moment — a large guy, smiling from ear-to-ear, bear-hugging the lanky president — made the front page of The New York Times and spent hours prominently displayed on news and political websites. Van Duzer and his business, largely unknown outside of Fort Pierce before Sunday afternoon, were election-year news, as were commendations for his humanitarian work on promoting blood donations.
But this quirky pizza-guy-meets-president story didn’t retain its feel-good aura, as it took all of a few hours for Internet trolls to begin trashing Big Apple Pizza in online reviews. Page after page of 1-star reviews on the popular restaurant-review site Yelp.com laid waste to Van Duzer’s business, the abuse getting so bad that several political news sites took note. By Tuesday, the swath of negative reviews had been taken down and replaced by comments from people who either support Van Duzer’s business or Obama’s politics.
You’d think that was enough.
Instead, Van Duzer says his business is being harassed because a registered Republican had the audacity to (a.) vote for Obama four years ago, (b.) say he’ll do so again this year, and (c.) share a moment of spontaneous campaign exuberance with the president. What’s a small-business owner supposed to do if the president waltzes into his shop and orders a pizza? Meekly shake the president’s hand and go about his work?
Van Duzer got carried away — but it is an election year. Things go haywire the closer we get to Election Day.
“People are saying a lot of bad things and boycotting my restaurant,” Van Duzer told Politico.com. “There’s no middle line anymore, and that’s exactly what’s wrong with our country right now.”
We’ll leave it to the people of Fort Pierce to judge the quality of Van Duzer’s New York-style pizza. But we’re confident in this: Meeting the president, regardless of his party, politics or policies, is a big deal. It’s OK to get excited. There’s nothing wrong with that.