In the world of HB, the tactics and strategies adopted by the government are very intrusive. Compared to modern propaganda devices of advertisements and misinformation, the world inhabited by Harrison is far more oppressive. Exceeding even the nightmares of an Orwellian dystopia, the atmosphere of HB does not even permit freedom of thought. In Orwell’s classic work on this theme, 1984, its protagonist Winston Smith at least manages to think through his ordeals by working around the system of control. But for the prodigiously talented young man Harrison Bergeron, even this option is denied by the way of overt control over his body and mind. In the milieu of American socio-culture today, propaganda achieves what talent neutralizing devices achieve in HB.
In contemporary American politics and policy-making debates, the subject of government welfare is a recurrent talking point. Many commentators, especially sympathizers of conservative politics criticize America as being a ‘nanny state’. What they imply is that instead of stimulating the business environment and encouraging entrepreneurship among citizens, the polity has adopted a care-taker attitude. This is perceived to be a negative and pessimistic approach to governance. The argument goes that with a vibrant private sector and healthy economic growth, all the public sector undertakings like retirement benefits, disability allowance, etc could be handed over to the private sector. That way the size of the government would be reduced and consequently the burden on the tax-payer too.
Despite such sound rationale in opposition to it, welfare continues to thrive due to manipulative propaganda techniques. Liberals have always been good at promoting the benign effects of welfare while eschewing obvious fallacies and inconvenient facts pertaining to the issue. In the last decade, many scholarly publications published studies of the difference between the concept and its practical implementation. Contrary to widespread belief that welfare is an essential support system for the underprivileged and the unfortunate, there is no conclusive evidence that such is indeed the case. For a fact the benefits of one or other government welfare program reaches nearly 96% of the population. This disabuses us of the view that welfare is pro-poor. Subsidized medical care or retirement benefits for the super-rich serves no moral or practical purpose. Yet, this inconvenient truth is often ignored by liberals in their support of welfare programs.
Discourse of the pros and cons of American welfare programs are always accompanied by their compatibility with provisions of the constitution. Ironically, even in the fictitious world of Harrison Bergeron, it is due to constitutional amendments that the state of perfect equality is ordained. This is a deliberate ploy on part of Kurt Vonnegut, to remind Americans that interpreting the Constitution very liberally will lead to disaster. As political commentator Thomas Sowell sharply observed in his syndicated column,
“Vulnerable Americans are being reduced to serfs on a federal plantation. Turn down a free public education? We will give you free health care. Lose your food stamp card or sell it to get cash for what you really want and the government will replace it instantly. Heck, parents are not even expected to feed their own children any more. Children can get free breakfasts, lunches and dinners at school. And the federal government, to encourage dependence upon itself, now extends that benefit to all children in some schools. But encouraging dependence on government weakens the individual. The result is a sea of personal tragedy.” (Maurice, 2012)