Kurt Vonnegut wrote his satirical short story “Harrison Bergeron” in 1961. It is the tale of a totalitarian society set in 2081 when absolute equality has been mandated and is enforced to the point of what we would, in 2014, perceive as madness. Smart people must be "handicapped" with various hindrances that bring them down to a government-accepted intellectual norm that is chillingly acquiescent and far less than normal. Attractive people must wear hideous masks. Talented people must be literally weighted down. The citizenry is horribly pliable, nonresistant, the smartest among them rendered catatonic by transmitters in their brains that blast all manner of disruptive noises to interrupt any attempt at creative thought and memory.
At the time it must have seemed an unimaginable but late follow-up to Orwell's 1984 (1949) and a sideways slant on Ray Bradbury's dystopian Fahrenheit 451 (1953). But Vonnegut was prescient beyond belief. The trend he saw taking root in 1961 (begun in the early 1920s with the original Progressive Movement) has come a very long way. We have now twice elected a President who is actively attempting to speed up the process of forced equality in all things to the point of madness.
Bret Stephens wrote a brilliant and clever article this past January for the Wall Street Journal, an update of the original story. Stephens carries Vonnegut's theme to the present and future consequences of the Obama administration: countless laws passed to mandate and enforce equality, the holy grail of the Left. In Stephens' updated tale, as in Vonnegut's original, there is no such thing as merit, earned success, or freedom of achievement, excellence, thought or action. There are amendments to our Constitution to mandate fairness and absolute equality. If Vonnegut's story played out in real time, there would be no Bill Gates, no Steve Jobs, no Joshua Bell, no Steven Spielberg, no TED talks, no space exploration! No geniuses would be allowed to thrive, to create and prosper. But to date, the equality police have not managed to stifle genius; many have prevailed and, like Gates and Jobs, have given prodigious gifts to the entire world, not just to Americans.
But we are not impervious to mandated equality. Can this administration's agenda, its thousands of new regulations, its rationed and redistributed health care, be overcome? Too soon to say. Much of the collectivist plan involves government control of education and the media. This they have surely accomplished. Too many of us are low-information voters. So we are edging closer and closer to some version of Vonnegut's imagined 2081. But then there is the blogosphere! Genius is prevailing, holding its own. In the closeted world of three networks and two major newspapers, they might have succeeded. But the internet has changed that.
Still the signs of mandated equality exist all around us. Why does every kid on every sports team get a trophy, even if he or she never scored a point? Why have so many schools eliminated valedictorians? Why does the SAT test continue to be dumbed down? Why is the federal government imposing Common Core which institutionalizes reduced standards for education? Why does the Left think banning affirmative action is racist, when the reverse is true? There are countless examples of enforced equality/mediocrity that we have become so accustomed to. We have become so familiar with the dictates of political correctness, multiculturism, the gender-is-a social-construct nonsense, that we barely notice the destructive harm done to our national character.
In the few months since Stephens' article, the predictive quality of Vonnegut's story has become even more front and center. The Left is falling all over itself embracing Thomas Piketty's Marxist tomb. President Obama tirelessly campaigns around the country repeating his exhortations about "income inequality," the necessity of a minimum wage hike to job-prohibitive levels, the fabricated "war on women," the wonders of his beloved wealth redistribution scheme that is ObamaCare. A relatively few previously uninsured people may think they are now entitled to government-subsidized free medical care. Some may believe they will have access to care because they have agreed to pay high premiums with huge deductibles. Others think that because they "signed up" they are entitled to care, even though they have paid nothing. But ObamaCare was never about actual access to medical care; it was always and only about government control, the rationing of medical care, the abatement of the elderly.
Equalizing access to medical care was ObamaCare's stated goal but it was and remains a redistribution scheme that will provide actual care to very few. Taxpayers, the less than 50% who fall into that category, will subsidize shoddy care for the subsidized who have been conditioned to think they are entitled to a doctor's expertise at someone else's expense. The middle class will go without medical care because it is truly unaffordable. The rich will get what they have always had: state-of-the-art medical care, the best doctors at the best hospitals. In the UK only the very wealthy get good medical care; Obama has successfully engineered the same class-stratified system here.
And after the enforced equality of a mind-numbed citizenry of America comes the mandated equality of nations. This is Obama's special agenda; take the US down several pegs, disempower us, let other rogue nations gain the power to threaten us. Iran should have the bomb. Assad of Syria should be free to enforce his power, to use chemical weapons. The Muslim Brotherhood should prevail in Egypt. The Palestinians are right to clamor for the destruction of Israel. Putin is welcome to Ukraine. Our military should be hogtied by excessive rules of engagement to equalize the fight, no matter which fight. All of this is fair in Obama's equality-marinated mind, as long as it does not interfere with his own extravagance at tax-payer expense. The numerous geniuses who have been warning us against this plan have been tilting at windmills. It is happening. The administration is proud of itself for its equalization of nations.
Vonnegut 's Harrison Bergeron, who is killed on national TV by the "Handicapper General," the equality enforcer, for his momentary public attempt at freedom and rebellion, brings to mind the ever-increasing number of Americans who are beginning to wake up to the excesses of this administration and to rebel against its coercive and repressive policies via the IRS, the BLM, the ATF, the EPA, the FBI, local militarized SWAT teams, etc. Harrison's own mother watches his murder on TV but forgets why she is sad moments later, a bit like Hillary "forgetting" why it does indeed make a difference how four Americans died in Benghazi. Vonnegut's story could have been written today about our goose-stepping toward enforced equality. Let us pray for a great awakening to the dangers of mandated equality.