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. Greg

    This is where your tax money is going. No one wants to do what's best for the country, it's all about ideology and pandering to a base.

    I blame both the Republicans and the Democrats. Both parties have sold out America, both parties have abandoned our American ideals. I hold the blame equally.

    If people don't keep rubber stamping their own party and only demonizing the other, nothing will change.

    February 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. David Dee

    I like the Indiana Republican who introduce a bill to make it a crime to sing the National Anthem badly.
    Unfortunately he wasn't joking about his bill.
    The Republicans don't have a clue , do they?

    February 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      In that case, 9/10th of the people attempting it would be guilty.
      I'd love to hear HIM sing it...

      February 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Carol

    If we introduce a bill to change the Mexico US border to Oklahoma they would do something about the violence on the Texas Mexico border?

    February 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mike

    Keep it up. As Mark Twain once said "Against the onslaught of laughter, nothing can stand" Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are masters at this, and I truly hope that more people use humor to uncover the truth. Have you ever noticed that there just are not that many humorous or satirical sources on the conservative right? If they can't make fun of the other side, that tells you a lot about where the real truth lies.

    February 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. oneSTARman

    IT is SAID that, "CAPITALISM Defeated COMMUNISM in The Soviet Union and DEMOCRACY in The United States."

    February 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      Can I GET an AMEN?

      February 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FedUp2

    It's the Colbert factor, but it only serves to bring up the real question, "What do we pay these people for?"

    February 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. MidWestern Boy

    Check out the Chicago Tribune for the litany of corruption coming out of Chicago Democrat politics. This is Mr. Obama's home turf. origin and history. Interesting that Cheney was constantly linked to Haliburton by the Media, but Mr. Obama is given a pass on Chicago, as it drags down the entire state of Illinois. Wonder why it is termed the 'liberal' Media?

    February 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • unretired05

      Of the 6 governors of Illinois that were indited 3 were Republican and 3 were Democrats. I think that means that Illinois has bipartisan corruption.

      February 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • unretired05

      indicted Silly spell check.

      February 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Fun

      "Interesting that Cheney was constantly linked to Haliburton by the Media, but Mr. Obama is given a pass on Chicago,"

      Cheney was the president of Halliburton and majority stockholder, so it wasn't hard to link the two. Was Obama president of Chicago? Mayor? What's the link?

      February 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      I think it is funny to link President Obama to the "shifty" political history of Chicago. 1. Do we link Obama to the roaring 20's when moonshiners and mobsters first made the place famous? 2. Do we ignore that Obama was born in Hawaii and raised abroad and spent only 10 yrs on Chicago/IL? 3. Do we link every politician to every place he/she has ever live? Seriously even the links to that 70's protester guy were weak. Cheney not only held office with Halliburton but made governement contracts with them in Iraq that ignored normal bidding process, defacto giving Halliburton the job at Halliburtons price....no lets not put President Obama and ex VP (shotgun) Cheney in the same sentence.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      What does this have to do with the article? Just another hater who can't get over Obama being in office...get use to it, looks like he has another four years coming his way.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      "...but Mr. Obama is given a pass on Chicago, as it drags down the entire state of Illinois."

      Seriously? If it weren't for Chicago, Illinois would be more like Alabama, and nobody would ever bother to visit.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mark J

    I remember the day when we would drive a couple of extra miles for gas that was .10 a gallon cheaper. Today
    you would burn way more gas than its worth to save that ten cents a gallon even for an small car.
    Watch for the spike on food and anything else that has to be moved by truck, train, boat or airplane.
    Alot of us had a mild winter, in Ar. we think its going to be a hot summer. I wonder what running the a/c will
    cost this year? (we use a wood stove for heat)

    February 26, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Drive Guy

      I know this has little to do with the topic of this conversation, but I still drive the extra miles for $0.10 less per gallon. I know that I frequently spend more money than I save, but it's worth it for me. If every person in America were willing to drive at least 5 extra miles to get the cheapest gas, then the determining factor for a convenience store's or gas station's success would be price.

      February 27, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • DDanny1

      Drive Guy is absolutely correct. If your car holds 15 gallons of gas and you get 18 miles a gallon, $.10 a gallon will pay for itself if the station is 3.35 miles (6.7 miles round trip) from where you usually purchase gas, but how many of us get in our car specifically to go buy gas? So the real standard is the station needs to be within 3.35m (6.7) out of your way.
      However, the only gas stations that set their own price are independents. The franchised stations (BP, Shell, Marathon) prices are set by the distributor. But if independents can increase traffic by 200% by cutting gas $.10 below cost, (they make their money on food, snacks and drinks, so grab a drink while you're there) the franchised station will have to follow suit and we got us a good old fashion Gas War (the good kind where you fight by cutting your price instead of invading a country).
      There's a ton of smart phone apps and websites that will lead you to the lowest price in your area.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Fun

      DD's right; convenience store make nothing from gas. They need you to buy a drink or chips while you're there. I've seen the math; gas is a dead end for them. They use it to bring in customers.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mmi16

    May the speculators that are driving up oil prices in the face of increased supply and decreased demand lose the unmentionables when the oil bubble bursts – and it will (when is the question)!

    February 27, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    Every sperm is sacred.
    Every sperm is great.
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    February 27, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Monty

      Let the Heathens spill theirs,
      On the Dusty Ground.
      God Shall make them pay,
      For each sperm that can't be found.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • TUTU

      Fully agree with your comment. Yes !! LIFE BEGINS IN THE SPERM. SPERMS NEED PROTECTION . THEY HAVE TO BE TREATED AS LITTLE HUMAN BEINGS.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. enkephalin07

    Is the point of this article to belabor the jokes and ensure they won't remain funny? Nice job breaking the humor, heroes!

    February 27, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. KBH

    More proof positive that all of these nut jobs need to be fired – immediately.

    February 27, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • susan

      I concur! these types of actions offend me greatly; being a congressman/woman is an honor, not a comedian job.

      February 27, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Fun

      "all of these nut jobs need to be fired" Just the ones making fun of your conservative agenda, I assume?

      February 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FleetingTX

    Has anyone ever heard of the Global Commodities Market? The oil goes to market and is sold like pork bellies and wheat. It is not a case where oil produced in the US is only available to the US market. BTW, this is where the speculators come in and make billions by manipulating the market. Wake Up People!

    February 27, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Fun

      "Wake Up People!" Stop telling me to wake up. You are the dopey ones. We don't have enough REFINERIES to process all the oil, and we can't build more because I won't let you build one in my backyard. No way you'll build it in your own, so we'll send the oil to Mexico and buy the gasoline back.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • conradshull

      So correct. People are clueless to the fungible nature of oil (or what the word means).

      February 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Actually, the US has a surplus of gasoline and sells it to other countries. I don't think we have a shortage of refineries. I do question though, why the Keystone XL pipeline has to go all the way to Texas. Why not just build a refinery in North Dakota? There aren't that many people living in that state. You'd think they could find a place to open a refinery.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    And we wonder why our country is in the state that it is in. It is because of idiots like this

    February 27, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Drowlord

    Farcical and ironical legislation is NOT clever. I would expect such shenanigans from teenagers in high school politics, but it's just another recurring signal that our legislators don't take their job very seriously.

    February 27, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Fun

      Lets pass a law keeping Drizzt fans off the internet next!

      February 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drizzt fans

      Oh yeah, then how about if we ban anyone from using names from movies or sports, too? No more 'Darth Vaders' and Samwises! Oh wait, that would be, like, satirical and ironic, wouldn't it? My bad.

      February 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
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