February 24th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

The latest legislative tool: Satire

For the very serious business of making serious laws for states with legitimately serious problems, there’s an unexpected streak of comedic wackiness running through governmental chambers.

Consider a sample of legislative work since the start of 2012:

Alaska Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Alaska, proposed the federal government take over New York’s Central Park and make it a development-free wilderness area as a way to blast back at those he says are in the way of drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wyoming legislators followed up with a bill in support of Alaska's measure.

In Mississippi, Democratic lawmaker Stephen Holland introduced a bill to change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America. It's a swipe at Republicans who he says want to push everything having to do with Mexico out of the state.

To get more - ahem - personal, Democratic Oklahoma Sen. Constance Johnson wrote a provision for an anti-abortion bill that said men can ejaculate only into women’s vaginas, lest lives be wasted. Virginia Democrat Janet Howell amended an anti-abortion bill to require rectal exams for men before they could get erectile dysfunction medications.

This week Rep. Yasmin Neal, D-Georgia, tired of an anti-abortion debate she says ignored women’s points of view, introduced a bill that would block men from having vasectomies unless the procedure would prevent death or serious injury.

Nevermind filibusters, lobbyists and legislative majorities; when lawmakers really want the world to know their opinions, they crack a joke, keep a straight face and wait for the tweets to start.

“Irony has a lot of currency these days,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, author of "Entertaining Politics: New Political Television and Civic Culture" and director of Old Dominion University's Institute of Humanities. “It’s kind of a new public language.”

The way Jones sees it, American government is in a stormy period of red-faced ideological posturing, and legislators might have realized that quiet farce can be more effective than yelling louder.

“The divisions seem so intense, irony is kind of a way to break out of that mold, garner attention and get people to stop and think,” Jones said.

Nobody expects to go swimming in the Gulf of America this summer (although, Johansen’s Central Park resolution did have a hearing, and Howell’s rectal exam amendment was just a few votes shy of approval.) Legislators made their point by putting some dry wit on the public record and drawing the gaze of media.

There's nothing particularly new here - satire, irony and sarcasm have lightened the mood while making a point since the age of Aristophanes. But they travel beautifully in the age of Twitter trends and late-night comedy; Neal and her anti-vasectomy bill popped up on blogs and Facebook, and news networks - this one, included - were on the story before The Onion needed to make it up.

“I expected this to be a Georgia issue. It’s not anymore," Neal said.

Reproductive rights debates on the state level

Of course, it can backfire. Stephen Colbert’s 2010 Congressional testimony on immigration - “masterful as a rhetorical act,” Jones said - was roundly panned as “an embarrassment” and "a real joke" by Republican legislators. To those who take government most seriously, policy testimony from a comedian wasn’t so funny.

Neal, a law enforcement officer in her first term as a state legislator, admits she took a risk with the anti-vasectomy bill. Georgia Republican Rep. Doug McKillip, who sponsored the abortion-limiting bill, called the anti-vasectomy bill a “poor attempt at humor,” and plenty of online comments railed against wasted time and resources.

Neal said she feels like her colleagues paid attention like they hadn't before, and most laughed about the anti-vasectomy bill. After a collective crossing of legs, America seemed to giggle at it, too.

“As a female in the general assembly, you have to be careful – what you wear, what you look like. You have to be good and then a little bit better,” Neal said. “I felt I could do a pretty good job of molding the conversation. I trust Georgians and Americans. I knew they’d get it, and they do.”

The 7,382 state legislators introduce between 200,000 and 220,000 bills in a two-year term, Karl Kurtz, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures points out. The recent spate of satirical legislation might be a fad, courtesy of fast-moving news and legislators borrowing each other's ideas, although there's plenty of just-for-fun legislation in the record books.

“There are always going to be some oddballs and jokes and attention-getters,” Kurtz said.

Fear not, lovers of Central Park and vasectomies: Legislatures, Kurtz said, are designed to say no. Of all the bills introduced, less than one-fifth pass.

For now, it seems likely the spermatozoon of Georgia’s men will flow as freely (or not) as the fellas choose; the true test of the anti-vasectomy bill might be whether the abortion-limiting bill becomes a law.

Satire drew attention for Neal's cause this time, but would she try it again?

She winces a little: “I’m going to be picky about the next one.”

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Filed under: Georgia • Health • Politics
soundoff (649 Responses)
  1. nthedgree

    To the moronic politicians who are mentally back in high school, emotionally stunted and prefer "student politics" rather than mature debate, "We the People" have brains and you cannot fool us with rhetoric and misleading arguments.
    STOP comparing the abortion of human life to the "forcing" of creating human life with the vasectomy debate, STOP comparing NY Central Park as a drill here location against ANWR... neoliberals and neoconservatives, STOP STOP STOP the childish behavior.

    February 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • E

      Why should Central Park be protected from drilling, but not Alaska?

      Why should women be told what they can and cannot do with their own internal organs, but men have free will?

      February 25, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      Stop? How about stop relying on an energy plan ccotrolled by other countries with shoddy environmental laws?

      If you cannot argue the facts and only resort to name calling then I win!!!!!!

      February 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. oscar in indiana

    Another crackpot,doctor dolittle, what ever the sarcastic name you want to give this so called goverment official for the people fits the bill most of if not all congress must be ludacris at this point. send him a message just like the rest of the time wasters and incompetant members that they need to find a place to rent because they are about to get evicted from thier posh grandiose life styles.

    February 25, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Wil

    Yeah.. thats a great way to waste even more of the taxpayers money. Yea Congress!

    February 25, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. hooya66

    I'd like to know how the government would prevent men from choking their chicken.

    February 25, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jim

    Your tax dollars at work – also known as wasted time and money thanks to the "best and the brightest"

    February 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. melissa

    Comparing vasectomies with abortion or other contraception is just plain stupid. If the elected-official wanted to be satirical then outlawing condoms would have made sense.

    I've yet to see any word on outlawing hysterecotmies, so what was the point of this(besides ignoring real problems)?

    February 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • IrishHeart

      One of the biggest hospitals in our area is a Catholic hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and they refuse to do hysterectomies based on religious principles. The only time they will do a hysterectomy is if a doctor signs paperwork swearing the hysterectomy has to be performed for medical reasons. This hospital is a public hospital in a major metropolitan city, and they have had this "policy" for as long as they have been around. Granted this isn't as far as outlawing a hysterectomy, but if I as a woman believe a hysterectomy is the best option for me, and I am forced to use this hospital and medical center only through my health insurance, what option do I have but to find a doctor to lie?

      February 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Politcagal

      The point is to get the attention of men to realize they are determining what a woman can do with their bodies and they should consider how it feels if a woman tries to put in legislation about what they can do with theirs. As the video said, all these anti-abortion bills are introduced by men. Why is that? Just because some people don't believe in abortions does not mean others share that same belief. I'm Catholic and I would never perform an abortion, but it is not my right to tell someone else and force someone else to change their minds on that issue.

      February 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • aimee

      How is comparing vasectomies with contraception stupid? A man gets a vasectomy so he doesn't have anymore children! It IS a form of contraception!

      February 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      There is no purpose for a vasectomy OTHER than for birth control. The Catholic Church is in dire need of a wake-up call. They didn't accept the fact that the earth was round, or that it traveled around the sun either.

      February 25, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Msomelse

      Comparing a vasectomy to abortion is like comparing anorexia to forced starvation. One is self inflicted the other is inflicted on someone else. If you want to starve yourself i personally don't care but if you are going to deny other people of food that is at least debatable.
      Last i checked getting your tubes tied was comparable to a vasectomy. How many people are arguing over the women's rights to to get a Tubal ligation? There is nothing comparable to an abortion. Abortion is still legal and until something gets passed otherwise please stop making it an issue. It is like you are looking for a fight, and when you are winning the only way to go is down.
      The senate had bigger concerns on their plate, like passing a real budget, or the wars in the middle east. From what I have seen lately from the House and Senate they are not good enough to do two things at once. I am pro-abortion and I find this a large, stupid waste of time. It is not like this is isn't already a hot topic everyone is already talking about.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey

      This is silliness but some will hold it as what our leaders should be doing. To Irishheart, your healt pla would not, and could not, force you to have a hysterectomy in a hospital which does not perform them. So, no sense in acting hysterical orve that. As far as the Catholic church – one may look at it as evil for not providing every whim a general public wishes to make upo it, or one may celebrate what it does indeed to for all despite their personal wants. I for one applaud the catholic church and then many things they do for those who are not Catholic- even if they do not do some of the things important to me. There are other avenues and if it is important enough for me, I will find and use them. As far as me not getting a snipping...no big deal. I'm rather responsible when it comes to that aspect of MY life. Silliness.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marlye

      Much rather see the blocking of any Viagra or male enhancement products.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • StanCalif

      Santorum, and his Catholic Church, forbids the use of condoms and forbids abortion. Romney's religion permits multiple wives, Gingrich's belief is to screw whoever is present! What are we talking about? Americans have no morals today! just do what you want, who cares?

      February 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Martha's Muffin

    Great way to generate some money to help pay off the debt.
    Size tax on all men.
    They will all gladly be taxed on the Plus side.
    Its a matter of pride.

    February 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • lordshipmayhem

      I recall reading of an order an American condom manufacturer got for 12-inch condoms – from the Soviet Union (this was back in the 1970's). The boxes were delivered as requested, labelled in big Cyrillic letters: "Medium".

      It's probably an urban legend, but it does have the ring of possibility to it.

      February 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      A most sensible, albeit hilarious, solution...!

      Ah, but let women ONLY be the fact-checkers, lol.
      Let men see how it feels to have something about their body decided about that the reps themselves don't posess.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicole Chardenet

      Excellent idea! The default tax will be for jumbo-size. The tax goes down for smaller ding-dongs. If you want to reduce your tax you have to drop your drawers and prove you qualify for it!

      February 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Smagma

    As a republican, all abortion should be outlawed.
    What happens after the thing is born, i couldnt care.
    Not my problem.

    February 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Very typical GOP reply! All you care about is making rich people richer! You have no idea what happens to real people who are not rich! Yet all these "not rich people" are expected to work for you and not complain! America is becoming more "Chinese" everyday!

      February 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Politcagal

      It was outlawed at one time and you know what happened. Abortions happened anyway. Ever heard of a coat hanger abortion. Or abortions performed with dirty knives and unhealthy settings. It turned into a black market almost type setting. And what happened the most, both the mother and the child died. Is that what you want to go back to? People dying all together? I'd rather have it legal for people to decide and have it done safely than having people die beacuse other people just want to prevent it from happening. It won't stop it.

      February 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Politcagal

      And you said you don't care what happens after the fact. Yes you do. You call these people lazy welfare people using tax dollars to support their multiple children that they cannot afford to have. I'm tired of the hypocracy of the GOP. You believe in no forms of contraception, but support things like Viagara being covered that can cause pregnancy. You don't teach boys the lessons of keeping their pants on, but stuck in the good old days of "boys will be boys" and girls just need to learn to keep their clothes on. Hypocracy. It takes 2 to make a child. Boys need to be as cautious as girls. And if they conceive they have to decide what is going to happen. So what's more costly here, a child or a procedure or an option for contraceptives? I think the latter. Than you don't have to worry about your conservative tax dollars going to waste on welfare. So what will be your next hypocritical comment?

      February 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • nick

      Take it out catholic school girl style fifth of cheap vodka and an 8ball yeah cheap easy no worry bout dome try to kill you going to clinic

      February 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I think Smagma was being sarcastic.
      This does, however, reflect the way many people think...Smagma just didn't write as prettily as that gang does.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey

      There are Democrats who object to abrtions and republicans who do not object. World is a bit more complicated than simply being a Democrat and/or Republican, Catholic or Muslim,Man or Woman. Time we started seeing ourselves and each other as more multi-dimensional so we can get past such silliness and move forward as partners in growing a world rather than foes destroying one. Still, this is a story of government wasting our time and money when there are important matters to be resolved.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Davielama

      Smagma: Your ignorant statement is a perfect argument for your own abortion!

      February 26, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • tl123

      The problem with sarcasm is that most people just don't get it!!!

      February 27, 2012 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. Martha's Muffin

    I would like to propose some legislation.
    After a child is concieved, it should be removed from the mother
    and placed in the father.
    Let him carry it for nine months.
    Then we can talk.

    February 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martha's Muffin

      I before E
      except after C......

      Got it.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tarnagh

      I've said for years that if men were the ones who got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

      February 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • MyTwoCents

      codeine, deify, neighbor, seize... etc etc.

      Then there are those w/ CIE: society, prescient, science, conscience, omniscient

      While you're out being a grammar Nazi, check your facts. While they did misspell it, it just makes you look ignorant.

      February 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      My Two Cents:
      Martha was correcting herself.
      You rant was wasted.
      Now who looks ignorant......?

      February 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JCMars

    The Democrats – the party of the crotch

    February 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mommatocharlie

    kind of a stupid article/blog, don't you think?

    February 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Hello

    if women are denied birth control then men should be denied ED drugs.

    its the war ONsperm.. ,

    I wonder how many priests use viagra before they use their little boy toilets to relieve themselves in?

    February 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Catholic priests prefer young boys! I question if the Pope ever experienced a female! Maybe he needs an education!

      February 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Probably less than the rest of the d-bags doing it that you never hear about.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dudley0415

    A nice move, but not a wise use of congressional time. There are 434 others in that body that wish to get things done, too.

    February 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Hello

    forget vasectomies.. how about dic-sectomies instead.. getting rid of 2 problems at once.

    small head male thinking and women abuse.

    February 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Tare

    If your new legislature were to be approved, then more women would 'require' abortions – so why don't you try something really new – like thinking before speaking!

    February 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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