Lessons Learned From the Great Obama Pizza Hug

All you need is love, people.

Let’s begin this brief intervention into the public fervor about Obama getting bear hugged by a pizza shop owner in Palm Beach with what I consider to be a basic fact: Hugs are important. They’re indelible images of affection, near-universal in their scope, and apparently they raise oxytocin levels and diminish blood pressure—or anyway, so says Wikipedia.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

Good. Hugs are good. Let’s move on to how in the heck one man’s spontaneous demonstration of affection for our president, caught on camera for the world to witness, became what the Daily Beast termed “a lightning rod in this country’s partisan divide.” Because personally, I think it’s got a lot to do with our nation’s tolerance (or intolerance) for love, particularly masculine love, and particularly masculine love when displayed by political leaders.

But before we get there, a brief history of the Great Obama Pizza Hug. Over the weekend, President Barack Obama decided to stop in at the Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida, to commend owner Scott Van Duzer on his small-business work ethic and the local foundation he started, which Van Duzer himself describes as creating “in our small town one of the largest blood drives in the country.” An avowed Obama fan, Scott was so excited to see the President that, after an initial and perfunctory one-arm-embrace-plus-pat-on-the-back and a few compliments from the President about his “guns,” Van Duzer just scooped the leader of the free world up in his jacked arms for a heartfelt moment of joy. Nothing planned or scripted, just a spontaneous moment of man’s love for his fellow man, in which the huggee happens to be the executive power of the United States and the hugger happens to be a registered Republican.

Enter the trolls. By yesterday morning, according to New York’s Daily News, more than 100 reviews of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta had to be removed from Yelp for “violating the site’s content guidelines.” It seems Obama haters took to the interwebs in force to smear Van Duzer’s ratings and scream about “socialist dictators.” In retaliation for which, Obama supporters logged five-star reviews with lines chastising “mob mentality” and “haters.” You can find some of the disappeared commentary through various news outlets; my personal favorite disparaging remark has to be “If he likes Barack, he can’t possibly make good pizza.”

Numerous commentators have remarked on the tragic fact that, in our political vitriol, the American people seem perfectly ready to spew crap all over everybody, small-business owners included; that civility has disappeared so completely from this country that we can’t even divorce a man’s personal politics from the pizza he makes. Van Duzer himself put the crux of the matter very well in his Daily Beast interview: “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and you don’t have to be ugly with yours … I’m all for free speech—don’t get me wrong there. But if you don’t have nothing good to say, then don’t say nothing. You know what I’m trying to say? You’re entitled to your opinion. Exercise your vote. That’s the bottom line.”

But there’s a reason this photo got everybody so riled up. And not just negatively, either; the New York Times edition of the picture got 16,423 “likes” on Facebook. I mean, look at it; it’s adorable. And why is it adorable? Because of the look of pure excitement and happiness on Scott Van Duzer’s face; because of how freaking far off the ground our president’s feet are. But mostly, I think, because of Obama’s palms: face up, open, accepting the surprise and hilarity of the moment. There’s love in those hands. And we’re never sure, as a country, how to deal with those in power displaying the vulnerability necessary for true human connection, especially when such vulnerability is displayed man-to-man.

For my part, that’s why I love this image: It shows our president for the fallible, liftable, lovable human being he truly is. And personally, I’ll take an open, vulnerable man as my political leader over the Mittbot or the Ryanborg or this guy (doesn’t anyone remember this guy?!) any day of the freaking week.