It's an election year, and none of us is going to get out of 2008 un-pestered and un-pitched. It's going to be a long year.
On Monday, I saw two press conferences at the Capitol and barely escaped to tell the tale. At one -- a presser put on by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to scare illegal immigrants -- I was strong-armed by two angry white citizens who told me I must hate white people, which would come as a shock to my mother. At the other presser, organized by supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, I was thumped on the chest by a good Christian woman and told I should accept Jesus into my heart, and had better do it soon.
I did as I was bid, and said a silent prayer: Lord, deliver us from this presidential election year.
Pawlenty unveiled a series of nothing-burger proposals -- many of which he could have initiated on his own just about any time during the past five years without calling the TV cameras -- to put on a Big Scary Face and promise to curtail unlawful activities committed by some among the many immigrants who are "illegal" or undocumented.
Most of them, whatever their status, are not "criminals" in the way Pawlenty was using the word. But it serves his purpose to fudge such distinctions.
For 30 minutes, he tossed around loaded terms like, "criminal," "fraud," "theft," "human trafficking" and "violent gangs." By the time he was done, I wanted to round up all the immigrants I could find and send them back to Norway.
This is where Gov. Nice Guy's game gets nasty: He keeps saying he supports "legal" immigration. But when he holds election-year press conferences (he has done it before) to deliberately confuse the alleged activities of the few with the undocumented status of the many, he is cynically exploiting public prejudice and intentionally muddling the issue (he rarely mentions "refugees.")
It's mostly just posturing, but it poisons the debate and divides the voters. And it's useful to him.
One of the executive orders he unveiled Monday requires the state to -- are you ready? -- verify the status of any new employees hired by the executive branch. Ha! Take that, you illegals! None of you will get to be the governor's press secretary anymore!
There were other moves, too, but most were as trifling as that, or have no chance of being approved by the Democrats in the Legislature. The only real news was that Pawlenty was milking another opportunity to strut his anti-immigrant stuff for any Republican presidential candidates out there who might be, ahem, looking for a jut-jawed vice president (are you listening, John McCain?).
To bolster the fake drama, Pawlenty stood in front of a choir of 25 officials from law enforcement and his administration who looked very determined. And very white.
There were 24 white people and one Latino (a culture, not a color) showing the old face of Minnesota to the new and, in effect, telling the non-white and the non-English-speaking to mind their Ps and Qs. All this while standing beneath the giant Capitol painting of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, where, in 1851, the Dakota Indians welcomed the non-Sioux-speaking immigrants of their time to Minnesota.
They should have kept us out.
I raised my hand and asked Pawlenty why he didn't have any people of color or people from the immigrant communities standing behind him, because he claimed his focus was merely on criminal behavior. He said, truthfully, that most of them oppose his efforts. (A lot of white Minnesotans do, too).
This is the point where two gentlemen of the Caucasian persuasion jostled and poked me and complained that I had asked "racist" questions and that I was "racist against white people." They wouldn't tell me their names, but they said they would like to be alone with me and make their point more directly, most likely to my nose -- an easy target.
We Irish are a fighting race; we even fight other people some time. But I had another presser to attend, on the other side of the building. So I left, assuring the Angry White Guys that I love all of God's children, even his pigmentally challenged ones.
Mike Huckabee loves 'em, too.
Huckabee, the Baptist-preacher and evolution-doubter who won in Iowa, wasn't getting traction in Minnesota. But his Iowa performance has excited the evangelical grass roots and could ignite a groundswell for him between now and the Feb. 5 Republican caucuses in this state.
Huckabee wasn't here for the press conference, which introduced state GOP chairman Ron Carey as head of the Minnesota Huckabee effort, and was attended by other Huckabites from the faith-and-family GOP vineyards.
"Anyone who considers their faith an important issue should like Huckabee," a jewelry salesman from St. Paul named Jeremiah Pilon, who is a Huckabee volunteer, told me. "Some people may associate the word 'Christian' with bigotry or closed-mindedness, but he has an open mind."
That's when I got thumped again: A woman named Rae Hart Anderson suddenly pounded me on the chest and told me, at my age, I better get right with Jesus, and get right in a hurry. I told her that if the Catholic nuns and my Protestant pastors haven't been able to get the job done, I may be doomed.
She put a Huckabee bumper sticker in my hand and asked me a riddle: "If you have Jesus in your heart, and you knock on Heaven's door, he'll let you in. Why?"
Beats me. Maybe he won't. I was stumped.
"Because you're part of his family."
I took my bumper sticker and left, pondering all these things in my heart.
We are all God's family. I believe that.
Except for the "illegals."
It's an election year.