Opinion: Sad Tale of the Pizza Owner Who Hugged Obama

Last November I went to a Bullets game at Verizon Center (if you say “Wizards” I will probably call you something very bad indeed,) and I ended up sitting next to a man named Martin Lancaster. He was a Democrat, and a former Congressman from North Carolina. He was a great guy, just like most of the politicians I’ve met. Believe it or not, people who are surly misanthropes don’t generally get elected.

He served in the House from January of 1987 to January of 1995. Towards his last term in office, a redistricting plan caused his district to absorb most of an adjacent district that leaned more conservative. He ended up facing a guy named Walter Jones, Jr. in the election, and they were running neck and neck for awhile.

“Then one of Jones’ boys found that picture,” said Lancaster.

My ears perked up. Picture? Women? A communist party meeting? A joint at a Seals and Crofts concert back in the day? What could it have been?

“I was jogging,” he said, and then paused. “With Bill Clinton.”

Jones’ campaign turned that picture into an ad that had the tagline “Look who he’s running around with in Washington,” and shortly afterwards, Martin Lancaster began to drop in the polls. This was the same year that the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Party simply clobbered the Democrats in the mid-term elections, and Congressman Lancaster was one of the casualties.

Lancaster had a sense of humor about it. He had a not-at-all rueful smile on his face when he told me this story.  “I might have lost anyway, but the picture didn’t help. That’s just the way it goes in politics, sometimes.”

And yeah, that is the way it goes. People in his new district weren’t big Clinton fans, and his political opponent tried to paint Mr. Lancaster as being in lock step with the Big Dog. Something like that is standard operating procedure for both parties. It’s fair game.

What happened to Mark McKim and what is happening to Scott Van Duzer is not fair at all.

For those of you who don’t know, Mark McKim was an unemployed plumber who, along with three other labor-oriented guys, was selected to have a beer at an Orlando bar with President Obama in 2011. It was a photo op and nothing to get worked up about, and McKim had no idea he was even one of the guys selected. He thought he was attending a fundraiser on behalf of his Union. The next thing he knows, he’s meeting the president.

And then the next thing he knows, a Florida talk radio station is digging into the background of him and the three other workers, and they find out that McKim got busted for a DUI and for possession of marijuana back in 2006. And they decided to tell everybody.

The story went from WBDO to Red State to Fox News, and I remember how solemn their wacky morning zoo team was as they mentioned how sad it made them to have to tell you all about McKim’s arrest because isn’t Obama just the worst?

Was there any legitimate reason to humiliate Mark McKim? He wasn’t Joe the Plumber. He didn’t confront a politician on TV. He didn’t make any public political statement whatsoever. He won a raffle that he didn’t even know he entered and his grand prize was public humiliation. And Fox was the only national outlet that reported on this. What’s next, Fox and Friends? Are you gonna send out a team to investigate the rumor that one of the Eagle Scouts Obama met once got caught spanking it at summer camp five years ago?  And I’m sure it’ll just break your hearts to have to tell everyone if you find out that it’s true, because isn’t Obama just the worst?

Is it necessary to dig for dirt on every single person who meets the president, no matter who they are and what they do? Is the president only supposed to meet absolutely flawless people who have never done anything wrong? If so, he’s gonna be a pretty lonely guy. He won’t be meeting me, that’s for sure. 

Mark McKim is one example of a blameless civilian getting trashed for political reasons, and Scott Van Duzer is another.

Van Duzer runs a successful pizza parlor in Florida, but he also does other stuff, like organize record breaking blood drives. President Obama came into his restaurant in order to congratulate him for doing a lot to help the community on his own time and initiative, and Van Duzer, who looks like the kind of guy who bear-hugs everybody, bear-hugged Obama.

Cue the outrage of the basement dwellers everywhere.

If conservatives worship the self-made man who gives to the community because he wants to and not because he has to, then they should be lining up to not only eat at Big Apple Pizza but to kiss Scott Van Duzer on the face. Instead, guys who think making up words like “Obama-tards” is just the funniest damn thing around are going online and trashing his business because isn’t Obama just the worst?

Lucky for him, despite getting his name dragged through the gutter hasn't stopped him from experiencing a boom in business (and hugs).

What should Van Duzer have done? Try to groin punch the president? Given him a frosty “I said GOOD DAY, SIR” and turn his back? He showed respect to and joked around with the president of the United States when the president came to congratulate him on doing something remarkable for his community. There wasn’t anything political about any of this, just like there wasn’t anything political about Mark McKim. Trashing these guys because doing so might somehow hurt a politician you don’t like is so scummy and cowardly that I feel like I need to take a shower just writing this.