Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

SEPTEMBER 3, 2009 9:55AM

How Peter Fleckenstein Poisoned the Health Care Debate

Rate: 4 Flag

In the Pantheon of Lies there are lies, damn lies, statistics and, in our age, internet lies.  Which are the biggest?  Internet lies, by a landslide.  One pipsqueak blogger, a Peter Fleckenstein, of Phoenix, has elevated the internet lie to an art informed by mania that must be read to be disbelieved.  His public profile is that of former Marine, father of two and blogger.  Prior to his recent adventures on Twitter, he was strictly under the radar, even to in-the-know locals in Phoenix, a hotbed of conservative bloggery.  In July, Mr. Fleckenstein embarked on a mission to twitter 48 mostly false and misleading claims about the leading health care reform bill, HR3200.

            Fleckenstien’s blog, “Common Sense from a Common Man,” prints the full range of health care lies here.  The material is, by and large, the usual stuff, at least in spirit:

  • Pg 100 HC Bill Lines 15-19 The govt WILL be using ACORN and other comm. grps to promote & enroll.
  • Pg 29 lines 4-16 in the HC bill – YOUR HEALTHCARE IS RATIONED!!!
  • Pg 932 The Govt will estab Preventative & Wellness Trust fund- intial cost of $30,800,000,000-Billion

            According to here, only four are true, twenty-six are false and the rest are misleading.  It is notable that this bit of Twitter-talk wingnuttery hit the pages of Factcheck and Politfact.  But in what would seem to be yet another case of Twitter-traction, fueled by a seemingly insatiable desire for lies about health care reform, Mr. Fleckenstein has reached bloggo-saturation in the media.  I could not begin to list the number of newspapers giving this story ink, but I could begin with the Sunday New York Times.

    North Carolina General Assembly member, Rep. Curtis Blackwood (R) went so far as to use the material in a constituent blast email.  Representative Blackwood states on his website, “I bring to the Legislature my educational background, eighteen years experience as a teacher and principal…”  Yet he hasn’t learned not repeat crap he picks up on the web without vetting it first.  His July 30 blast email begins, “Folks, while going over some emails in the office, I came some interesting information on the Democrats' big health care bill…”

            Interesting indeed.  Fleckenstein doesn’t analyze as much as tag.  That is, he keys to a word and extrapolates a pithy, black-helicopter annotation.  Even the conservative Americans for Prosperity has stated that his work contains significant inaccuracies—and that’s from their point of view.  His work can be characterized as more creative than average, while retaining all the anger and paranoia that have come to characterize the post-Rovian, Beck-influenced haters of the far, far, far, right.

            Progressives, policy wonks, and elected centrists are all flummoxed by the health care backlash.  They just don’t get it.  And it isn’t just that inspired wingnuts keep coming up with this stuff, it is the traction it develops in what would have, a year ago, seemed to be mainstream culture.

Anger & Paranoia Dance a Pas de Deux

            The why is anger and paranoia.  Anger at having lost power.  Paranoia because it reifies the enemy and adrenalizes the response.  The paranoiac fantasy initiates one into the club.  Its innermost reaches harbor a mindset that indulges a fantasy of violent resistance.    Material such as Fleckenstein's is grist for the mill.  I touched on this recently in a post here that referred to the Southern Poverty Law Center report here on the resurgence of right wing militias.  Circles of anger and paranoia fan out to bands of lesser-intensity belief, until they finally reach an outer nexus of mere anxiety—the anxiety of the uninformed.  The anxiety that says I oppose any change might rock my Medicare boat—and any change will.  If you want to apprehend this stuff you have to ignore the fact that Medicare is government-funded health care.  The ability to simultaneously adhere to contradictory ideas is de rigeur in the domain of heath care opposition. 

            That gullible, naïve and right-leaning Americans use this material as the basis of their analysis of health care reform—as was reported about a medical support group in the Houston Chronicle  here—is pathetic.  That elected officials like Rep. Curtis Blackwood would use it a basis of public discourse in blast emails is beyond reprehensible, it’s demagoguery pure and simple.

Genesis of a Lie

            How does this material get composted in the first place?  Let’s take the example Fleckenstein cites from page 59 of the bill to come up with his statement, “‘The federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer.’”  The actual language of the bill on page 59 calls for the secretary of Health and Human Services to "enable electronic funds transfers, in order to allow automated reconciliation with the related health care payment and remittance advice."  To enable fund transfers.  From providers most likely.  Not a giant vacuum cleaner to siphon all the cash out of your bank account (including any taxes you may owe as one wag appended).  Nonetheless, you can find pages and pages of Google references to “health care bill page 59,” all of them parroting Fleckenstein’s crap.  It’s the Big Bang moment for urban legends about health care reform.

            Can you fight this stuff with reason?  No.  It’s too pervasive and compelling according to the psychology of the Big Lie to be beat back with reason.  Not even Barack Obama can do it.  The only way to fight the Big Smear is to call up the offices of wavering Democrats and the three moderate Republicans on the planet and tell their staff that this is a lose-your-vote moment.  You might tell them that you voted for them in the last election but that if they don’t vote for meaningful health care reform with a public option now, you will not vote for them in the next primary—that you will vote for any Democratic challenger who can fog a mirror and you will keep your eyes peeled for a viable independent as well.

            Do you have a town meeting coming up?  If the meeting is being held by a Democrat, show up with a hand-made sign saying “No Fake Reform” and “Public Option = The Public’s Right.”  If the town hall meeting is being held by a Republican, bring a sign that says, “Who Writes Your Facts?.”  If you don’t vote with your presence, someone else will do it for you. 

            Despite the outrageous slings and arrows of an opposition that sinks to new lows with each news cycle, supporters of health care reform need only stick to their guns (so to speak) for the inclusion of a reasonable  and cost-effective public alternative to the corporate redlining of millions.  But you have to get off your butt—now—or health care reform will lose.  The fight has become a rematch of the 1993 bloody battle against the Clintons—a fight dreaded by the Dems but relished by right. The moment has come for supporters of reform to bring their A game.

 * * *

(Props to OSers Rdan and Eric Ross for posting on this topic in August at Rdan and Ross.  Both are worthwhile reads.)

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Liberals ordinarily stay at home for these things, and speak only among themselves. We have more progressives, now, I think. Will you make the demo on the 13th?
Very discouraging...