May 18, 2013
Pizza place owner faces boycott over Obama hug
By Adrian Bono
Buenos Aires Herald.com
A Republican store owner in Florida who made global headlines after giving a bear-hug to President Barack Obama is now dealing with backlash from fellow party members who feel betrayed by his actions. “I don't regret a thing I did,” he told the BuenosAiresHerald.com.
On Sunday afternoon, Scott Van Duzer, a registered Republican and owner of a Florida pizza place made the rounds in the international press after bear-hugging US president Barack Obama and affectionately - and literally - sweeping off his feet after he decided to make a surprise visit to his store.
It appears Obama had heard of Van Duzer's charity work in the blood donation area, and decided to pop in for an informal chat, which ended up in the picture seen around the world.
But it seems the amicable exchange between them did not sit well with many of Van Duzer's fellow Republican party members, who began calling for a boycott of his pizza place in response to his displays of affection for the man who is Mitt Romney’s main competitor.
“I don't regret a thing I did,” he says in an exclusive conversation with the BuenosAiresHerald.com as he explains that despite his affiliation with the GOP he actually voted for Obama four years ago because he believed in him.
But in a time in which bipartisanship is uncommon, the backlash was immediate. A legion of cyber bullies took to Yelp, a popular website for restaurant reviews, to unleash a plethora of bad comments on the Big Apple Pizza & Pasta page.
The one-star reviews, some of them extremely aggressive, manage to embody the current level of divisiveness running amok in the political spectrum of the US.
“I won’t be eating at your place of business. And I won’t be voting for your idol in the White House,” user Sandy S. says.
Britt S. from Houston, Texas, took his rhetoric even further, saying “he couldn’t trust someone so ignorant to be jubilant as to pick up a socialist dictator.”
User B.F. from Port. St. Lucile, Florida, also assured they “would never eat at a pizza shop that supports the president’s social agendas and complete disrespect for our Constitution.”
This deluge of bad reviews was soon counter-attacked by an outpouring of support from the pro-Obama camp, who responded in the exact opposite way and gave the restaurant five-star reviews for Van Duzer's actions during the president's visit.
“Mr. Van Duzer, my wife and I are altering our travel plans so that we can come and eat at your restaurant when we visit Florida. It’s a shame that these people hide anonymously on the internet and threaten to hurt your business through their hateful and egregious posts,” user John S. from New York said.
Bart H. from Brooklyn also weighted in on the controversy: “You try to trash a man’s business because he likes a different political candidate than you? What scum you all are. Go crawl back in your holes.
Unwittingly, the Yelp stars–rating system became an impromptu barometer to measure the existing chasm between Obama detractors and supporters. In a with-me-or-against-me world, it’s either one star or five stars. There’s no room for a middle line.
“There’s just no compromise between the two sides," Van Duzer told the Herald. "The American people suffer because we can't work together."
“Bottom line is, I don't care which party he belongs to," he explained. "Anyone saying they are not excited about meeting him is un-American. You should respect the man who has the power to protect our kids who are 7000 miles away,” he said in reference to the troops stationed in Afghanistan.
In an increasingly polarized political environment, Van Duzer seems to be an endangered species. A person seemingly capable of leaving partisanship behind and assume a pragmatic role that so many in Washington have failed to uphold.
And as others take on virulent criticism, Van Duzer remains unfazed. When asked if he would be willing to repeat his actions knowing the kind of backlash his store would be facing, he replied defiantly: “Without a doubt. I'm proud of my president, it doesn't matter to me if he's a Democrat or a Republican."
A rare specimen indeed.