Things Rich Miller Pretends to Know About-Part 1

by , posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 1:46 am

I was a bit fascinated by Illinois Media Progressives posting of this item on their blog, now cross-posted here on Progressive Fox. I can’t say I disagree with anything in the post, but I can say this: It doesn’t go far enough.

I know the author of the post, in fact in the interest of my own full disclosure I’ll point out that I first met the author when we were both working on John Laesch’s 2008 primary campaign, which is when he also first met John Laesch. My acquaintance with Laesch goes a bit farther back – to the 2006 campaign. Which is part of the reason I think the post does not go far enough: the author of it was not in the room when Rich Miller’s favorite Republican 18 second John Laesch YouTube sound-bite was taped. I was.

IMP does a great job of addressing what Rich Miller pretends to know about the economic aspects of a period of American History that most manage to grasp no later than their senior year in high school (hint: “Cotton Economy” and “Triangular Trade” can be googled!). But, since I have a more comprehensive knowledge than IMP does of what Rich Miller pretends to know about what John Laesch said in a meeting back in 2006, I thought I’d share.

First, let’s set the scene.

Event: Immigration Town Hall meeting
Date: August 6, 2006
Location: Geneva Public Library, Geneva, IL
Duration: more than 2 hours, a little less than 3
Attendees: Hundreds. Including John Laesch, yours truly (I was media coordinator for the campaign, and media was both invited and present), BATV (which taped the entire meeting – and we will be getting back to this), a Hastert intern who took notes but did not tape, representatives from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and from the Illinois Minutemen, a professor from NIU who was there to moderate the event, an attorney who specializes in immigration law, and lots and lots of residents of IL-14.
Background: At this point in the 2006 campaign, as many may recall, the Repubs had found gay-bashing was getting less traction than it had in 2004 and were therefore stirrin’ up a little immigrant-bashing fever. Denny Hastert, then Speaker of the House, had not just declined to debate Laesch, but had also declined to address the issue of immigration in his own district, which has rather a high proportion of immigrants and persons of Latino descent. Not that Denny was planning on ignoring the issue of immigration. In fact, he had something like a 34 district immigrant-bashing/fundraising tour planned in threatened Repub districts coast-to-coast. The tour was eventually cut short by the congressional page scandal, but that news had not yet broken on this night.

So John challenged Hastert to debate him on immigration within the district. Hastert ignored the challenge, as all incumbents do. No surprise. Then John decided to go ahead and hold a town hall meeting on the subject anyway. I can remember being utterly, deadly opposed to this, and voicing that opinion quite strongly to John’s face. Or maybe I mean in his face. I can be very mouthy and I felt very strongly about John not getting sucked into a) debating the very issue that was the only thing that the Repubs wanted to talk about that summer and b) refereeing a free-for-all between ICIRR and the freaking Illinois Minutemen. I think I spent three or four days in John’s face, before it became clear to me he understood and acknowledged my objections and was going to do it anyway.


I hadn’t been with the campaign long at that point, and like to think if John had then known a little more about the way I think I might have succeeded in engaging him for a little longer in a debate about the wisdom of this course. But since I know more about the way John thinks now, I must admit I think he would have eventually done it anyway. He wanted to debate Hastert and Republicans on their own turf and on their chosen issue. He does his homework and knew his stuff and he was not going to shy away from a fight.

So there we were, John poised and calm, me wondering when I was going to be forced to dial 911 because physical violence had occurred.

Never happened.

Oh, yes, there were heated exchanges, oh yes, there was misinformation so thick that at one point the person live-blogging the event was forced to look up the clause in the Constitution that guarantees birthright citizenship, and oh yes, there was moderator.

But even when that moderator was overwhelmed, John Laesch never was. He would step lightly into the middle of a shouting match, take a point from each side, and re-route the debate in a productive direction.

I was flabbergasted. And not least because I spend a large part of my day-job life facilitating and attending town meetings, only the ones I attend and/or facilitate are often about things like whether the new sewage plant in town is going to stink up neighborhood A or neighborhood B. You think national debates are heated? Try making your living by going to debates about which people are going to be forced to smell what on a daily basis.

So I have a lot of experience watching people (me included on a couple of regrettable occasions) fail spectacularly in the facilitation of public meetings. John did not fail. He did not succeed in achieving consensus on immigration reform, but he did succeed in getting the people in that room to see each other as people, he succeeded in getting them to agree about which points they agreed upon and which they did not, he succeeded in getting them to listen to his position and the reasoning behind it.

And it was during such a moment, when John was explaining his position on immigration to a surprisingly attentive and suddenly respectful crowd that he fell into a 20 minute-or-so pretty thorough review of the history of cheap labor in the U.S. It included discussion of many immigrant waves, but it also included a discussion of slavery. Which is where this 18 second slice of tape, which Rich Miller is so obsessively fond of posting and reposting, came from.

Or to illuminate more definitively where it came from:

Couple of weeks after this I was at a candidate forum in St. Charles and ran into the director of BATV who told me that he got a call from one of Denny’s staffers requesting a copy of the tape, which he then supplied. I asked which staffer and he said they had used a fake name (I forget the name, but it was something really silly like “Dave Duck” or “Babs Bunny”). I asked him how he knew it was one of Denny’s staffers if they used a fake name. He said, “I have caller ID.”

And then the YouTube channel that only Rich Miller and ArchPundit subscribe to posted the 18 second sound bite, pulled out of the wider context that made a hell of a lot more sense if you were there at the time. You know, for the whole freaking almost three hours worth instead of the 18 seconds-worth of tape that Miller has been persistently pimping over multiple years for the Repubs.

But then I’m pretty sure Rich Miller was not in the room at the time, so how would he know?

What he can’t know are the details, the wider context of the information surrounding this quote, the mood, and how that mood evolved and turned into something weirdly positive, if not about the issue, then about the candidate. For instance, when that meeting was over pretty much everyone there – on both sides of the issue – was lining up to thank John and to shake his hand. And a pretty shocking amount of them – at least it shocked me at the time – from both sides of the issue were promising to vote for him.

Even the NIU prof said to me when it was over: “Your guy, wow – he’s the real deal isn’t he?”

That’s the kind of effect Laesch has on people when he gets in a room with them and really listens to them and really explains where he’s coming from. Maybe that’s why, as IMP pointed out in his post, Laesch got outspent in the 2008 primary by 17 to 1 and still came within 399 votes of the guy who outspent him and who had, moreover, the weight of the entire statewide (outside of this district that is) Democratic establishment behind him.

But then again, maybe Laesch’s effect on the actual voters in-district – people who’ve actually taken the time to engage in a dialog with him – is also why people like Rich Miller are still three years later obsessing over him to a degree that they can’t restrain themselves from pushing Republican hit pieces about a man who is no longer running for a goddamned thing.

Maybe guys like Laesch will always provoke an uncontrollable sort of “must destroy at all costs” knee-jerk response out of establishment types. Perhaps Miller just can’t help himself.


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