The Upcoming Harrison Bergeron Debates

 

Long before he got old and bitter and boring, author Kurt Vonnegut penned a brilliant little short story in 1961 that remains one of the most scathing portrayals of “progressive” thought ever written (probably much to his chagrin).

Harrison Bergeron begins:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anyone else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Vonnegut’s short story came to mind as I watched the Republican and Democratic conventions these past two weeks and listened to the speakers (Confession: I listened to the Democratic speakers as much as I could stand — but I was there for most of Clinton, Biden, and Obama) and even more so by the “analysis” of the network and cable pundits and “fact-checkers”. These people seem to have self-proclaimed themselves our official “Handicappers General.” 

Because the numbers are so close, many feel that the election will go to the man who wins the debates. There will be three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate.

The self-assigned role of our modern “Handicappers General” will be to promote their sorry and depressing men and get them re-elected by handicapping Romney and Ryan down to Obama and Biden’s level. So it will be equal.

In the short story, this is how it is done:

And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

I imagined George to be us (the viewers) and the noise to be the voices of Chris Matthews or Stephanie Cutter or Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

In Vonnegut’s short story, genuinely attractive people are dealt with like this:

They were burdened with sash-weights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in.

Kind of like Romney is “burdened” with demonstrably false accusations of outsourcing jobs, not paying his taxes, killing the wives of his employees, purposely bankrupting profitable companies so he can sell of the pieces, his crazy cult religion…

And Paul Ryan, my hero? He will be in for the toughest handicapping of them all prior to his debate with Crazy Uncle Joe.

I imagine him metaphorically handicapped like Harrison Bergeron himself:

Nobody had ever borne heavier handicaps…Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds. And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

In the conclusion of the story, Harrison triumphantly manages to break out of his chains and weights on national television. That’s the good part. He’s then shotgunned to death by the Handicapper General. That’s the bad part.

I hope our story will have a better ending.

(Graphic from TheWarriorBard.com)

There are 21 comments.

  1. Keith Rice Member

    Tragic tale indeed, told even before PC began the ignoble leveling process.

    Inevitable in an expanded democracy, the sticky morass of mediocrity becomes acceptable, then the norm, then the law.

    Let’s hope Romney performs like Bergeron.

    • #1
    • September 9, 2012, at 10:30 AM PDT
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  2. TeamAmerica Member

    Surprised he wrote a story like this. However bitter he may have become, I can testify that he could be gracious. While speaking in a theater at Rutgers in the early 1980s, at one point he either asked for any Repubs or conservatives in the audience to raise their hands. When my friend and I were the only ones to do so, he said something gracious along the lines of praising us for our courage.

    • #2
    • September 9, 2012, at 10:30 AM PDT
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  3. drlorentz Member

    I’ve got to read this story. Thanks for pointing it out. The phrase Handicappers General needs to become part of the political discourse.

    • #3
    • September 9, 2012, at 10:45 AM PDT
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  4. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    We first need a Harrison Bergeron. We have a candidate with the requisite good looks and brains. When does the courage part kick in?

    • #4
    • September 9, 2012, at 10:47 AM PDT
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  5. Annefy Member

    A good movie, too. 

    • #5
    • September 9, 2012, at 10:50 AM PDT
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  6. Larry3435 Member

    “I imagined George to be us (the viewers) and the noise to be the voices of Chris Matthews or Stephanie Cutter or Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”

    That seems very unfair to loud, annoying noises.

    • #6
    • September 9, 2012, at 10:53 AM PDT
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  7. Profile Photo Member

    That is a great, albeit scarey, story. We’re not there yet, but it’s clear that there are some who want to take us there, even if they haven’t fully recognized the ultimate end of their desires. 

    • #7
    • September 9, 2012, at 11:05 AM PDT
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  8. C.J. Box Inactive
    C.J. Box Post author
    TeamAmerica: When my friend and I were the only ones to do so, he said something gracious along the lines of praising us for our courage. · 46 minutes ago

    It’s pleasing to hear that, thank you.

    • #8
    • September 9, 2012, at 11:25 AM PDT
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  9. Jerry the Bastage Inactive

    Now, how do we know that Chris Matthews and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz aren’t actually superior beings who were surgically altered to eliminate that undemocratic preternatural beauty and intellect?

    • #9
    • September 9, 2012, at 11:34 AM PDT
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  10. Barbara Kidder Inactive

    Somewhere in this equation there is the specter of ‘Pavlov’s dog’; that being the bribing with ‘free stuff’ of the voters who make up the “expanding democracy” (i.e. a constantly enlarging franchise, accomplished by, first the lowering of the voting age, then the removal of quotas in the immigration process, the automatic ‘naturalization’ of the US-born offspring of illegal aliens, and now the outlawing of any voter ID laws, especially in states where there is a large population of illegals).

    It’s much the same as the graduated income tax; they have the system in place so that it can never be overcome.

    Tell me I’m wrong, pleeeeese!

    Highlama: Tragic tale indeed, told even before PC began the ignoble leveling process.

    Inevitable in an expanded democracy, the sticky morass of mediocrity becomes acceptable, then the norm, then the law.

    Let’s hope Romney performs like Bergeron. · 56 minutes ago

    • #10
    • September 9, 2012, at 11:41 AM PDT
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  11. Essgee Inactive

    Is it true that Chris Matthews was taken to the hospital the last night of the convention?

    Heard he had an erection that lasted more then 4 hours………

    • #11
    • September 10, 2012, at 1:06 AM PDT
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  12. Profile Photo Member

    Killing the wife of his former employee – that is saying it as it was said. I hope Romney’s prep team has that list of accusations ready for Romney to pelt back.

    • #12
    • September 10, 2012, at 1:11 AM PDT
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  13. Aodhan Inactive

    Read the story online here:

    • #13
    • September 10, 2012, at 3:25 AM PDT
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  14. C.J. Box Inactive
    C.J. Box Post author
    Aodhan: Read the story online here: · 5 minutes ago

    Very cool. Thanks for the link.

    • #14
    • September 10, 2012, at 3:31 AM PDT
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  15. Aodhan Inactive

    Also worth a look:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facial_Justice

    • #15
    • September 10, 2012, at 4:00 AM PDT
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  16. Profile Photo Member

    I could tell you you are wrong: but I’d have to lie.

    Barbara Kidder: Somewhere in this equation there is the specter of ‘Pavlov’s dog’; that being the bribing with ‘free stuff’ of the voters who make up the “expanding democracy” (i.e. a constantly enlarging franchise, accomplished by, first the lowering of the voting age, then the removal of quotas in the immigration process, the automatic ‘naturalization’ of the US-born offspring of illegal aliens, and now the outlawing of any voter ID laws, especially in states where there is a large population of illegals).

    It’s much the same as the graduated income tax; they have the system in place so that it can never be overcome.

    Tell me I’m wrong, pleeeeese!

    Highlama: Tragic tale indeed, told even before PC began the ignoble leveling process.

    Inevitable in an expanded democracy, the sticky morass of mediocrity becomes acceptable, then the norm, then the law.

    Let’s hope Romney performs like Bergeron. · 56 minutes ago

    Edited 4 hours ago4 hours ago
    • #16
    • September 10, 2012, at 4:45 AM PDT
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  17. FridayNightEcon Member

    We’ve been thinking of Harrison Bergeron a lot lately, in the current climate. Thanks for tying it to the upcoming debates.

    • #17
    • September 10, 2012, at 5:51 AM PDT
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  18. Mister D Member

    There is also an irony in the story in that the “average” people often note the extent of a person’s handicap, and deduce their greatness from it, so, as always, the government solution does not accomplish its desired goal.

    • #18
    • September 10, 2012, at 6:06 AM PDT
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  19. TeeJaw Inactive

    Reading the excerpts you posted of Harrison Bergeron I thought of Nikolia Gogol. I’m not sure why, maybe the way Vonnegut describes the characters and the trinkets hanging from them, like the trash heaped on Akaky Akakievich in The Overcoat. Vonnegut should have stuck with that style. 

    • #19
    • September 10, 2012, at 9:11 AM PDT
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  20. Doug Lee Inactive

    Harrison Bergeron had a huge effect on me as I read it in college; I was excited to watch the movie, and though it definitely sits in the “B” movie category, it’s not bad either.

    One of the most powerful images in the story, which is quite short, is Harrison’s parents sitting in front of the television, having just witnessed his demise at the hands of the state, but barely remembering anything about it. Fascistic control of the population through the state controlled media; it’s a liberal fantasy that they are working hard to make into a reality.

    • #20
    • September 10, 2012, at 11:50 AM PDT
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  21. Nancy Spalding Thatcher

    Fyi, a new movie was made of the story, far better than”Harrison Bergeron” and far more true to the story. “2081” I think– it starts with that amazing first line (pardon the approximate paraphrase) “America was finally equal, with the passage of the 287th, 288th and 289th amendments to the constitution…” the handicapper general is played brilliantly by a grim-looking woman. 

    • #21
    • September 11, 2012, at 4:59 AM PDT
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