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. Stu

    Yeah, sure, punish me for something I had nothing to do with. It should say that Christian males can't get a vasectomy.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jess

      that's exactly how women feel about the abortion bill.

      Women die in catholic hospitals all the time because it's too late to rush them to a hospital that is willing to do an abortion to save the mother's life.

      As a Catholic woman, i find it disturbing and barbaric that a group of "christian" men sit around putting laws on my womb.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Jess – you can't be Catholic and espouse murder. It is a mortal sin.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • diana

      @ Jess....you can't be both a Catholic and for abortion.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stu

      @jess This is just as ridiculous as slave descendants wanting me to pay reparations for something I never took part in. Alienating yourselves from the men who agree with you will do nothing in your favor.

      February 25, 2012 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. WizardSleeve

    Jesus is keeping tally marks for all the murdered babies who come to be by his side in his kingdom. One day these mothers are going to have to answer to him for what they did to the little angels they were entrusted with. I weep for this world and if the rain outside is any indication so does god.

    Stop an ask yourself something, what if Mary had aborted Jesus?

    February 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • BR

      give it a rest, pal.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stu

      Maybe you should ask yourself if it is any of your business. Why don't you let "jesus" handle his business and you go sit in the corner, and read the bible.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Wizard Sleeve

      The world would be a much better place.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • WizardSleeve

      @Br and Stu: I pray for both of you and that you see the wickedness of these women. Have you ever wondered about how evil these people are for doing such things?

      I'm glad the government wants to help us regulate our sinful bodies.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Wizard Sleeve

      Why don't you just worry about yourself and leave the rest of us alone. It's not your body...you don't have a say in it.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • WizardSleeve

      I worry about this world because just like Jesus I am a shepard and my sweet angel babies are my flock and I don't want them to see how wicked the world has become.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Ok, now imagine if Hitler's mom had an abortion. Now imagine if dinosaurs had opposable thumbs. Now imagine if dragons were the real source of chicken McNugget meat.

      If Jesus ever existed, Mary's peers would have done it for her with a stoning if they hadn't bought the whole virgin pregnancy bit.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • tnana

      So since I do not believe in your vengeful god I have nothing to worry about. What you fail to understand is our founding fathers intentionally separated church and state so overly zealous religious belief would not be the Law of the Land. Over half the people in the United States are NOT conservative christians. Regulate yourselves in your church but leave my medical decisions to me and my doctor.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • The REAL Truth...

      Oh heck dude... in that case, God would have hit the reset button and picked someone else... Imagine you not wasting those electrons by posting in the first place ?

      February 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanDirt

      No matter the Country, Men have always wanted power over women.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • jess

      @ WizardSleeve – your religious ideals are blocking the bigger picture here. I hope the below happens to you. Some of us have already lost loved ones due to these stupid laws.

      Situation: Doctor to Woman "Our tests conclude that you will die if you continue to try to have this baby full term but I can't legally give you an abortion because we are already passed the legal 20 weeks there-for both you and your baby are going to most likely die in labor"

      woman to Doctor: "so I have to fly to outside of the USA to have an abortion to save my life, so that my children aren't motherless and my husband not made a widow?"

      Doctor to woman "I guess it made more sense when I thought it was limiting women who just made poor choices with their bodies" SUCKS FOR YOU.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • WizardSleeve

      All of y'all are so far from the light of the lord. I've been personally touched with the abortion issue and that's what has led me to my opinions. A former friend of mine had an abortion and I had to end our friendship. I told her that I prayed for her but I could no longer be her friend on earth since we could not be friends in heaven.

      She regrets her decision everyday because not only has she lost her precious angel baby she loSt her key to the kingdom.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dean

      You are a troll, right? Seriously – if not, then I suggest you get serious psychological help. You are far, far too concerned about things that are not under your control, nor should they be.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • gelbkreuz

      Very good troll. "But think of all the sweet angel babies that do not get born because of spilled seed." LOL. Nice.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeworldnow

      If you don't want an abortion, don't have one. It's that simple. Don't play God with other people, just honor your own value system. Otherwise, we must be fair. Abortion regulation is just the same as ejaculate regulation: someone telling someone else what to do with their reproductive abilities. Ever looked at one of those abortion protest groups? Invariably, they are grizzled, old and far beyond any personal concern about reproduction. Those idiots are meddling in other people's business... they should experience the same treatment–if they can ejaculate at all, any more. LOL.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • WizardSleeve

      I do not know what a troll is but it sounds like something from a Harry Potter book and I would rather not get on the topic of those.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joeymom

      Perhaps they are reincarnated into a better family and situation?

      February 24, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindi in MD

      WizardSleeve never lose your principals or change your opinions. You let that friend of yours off easy in my opinion!

      February 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • zing

      with a name like wizardsleeve – and prattling on like a prude and mentally ill person (religious freak) – you're proof that just about anybody with a low IQ can use the Interwebz. thumbs up!

      February 24, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PatSJ

    When men can give birth, or babies can be "grown" to maturity outside the womb, THEN the anti-abortionists can legislate it. Until then, it is just more government interference about what a woman can and cannot do with her body.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • BR

      Exactly!!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • The REAL Truth...

      It's also interesting that the strongest pro-lifers tend to be men!! Wassup wid dat?

      February 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      A fetus is NOT a woman's body. It has different DNA, different organs and doesn't even share the same blood. So ignorant you fools are.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. LouAz

    Ah, back to the good old days . . . women as property . . . stoning in the town square . . . my god(s) or my tribe will kill you . . . Ah ! Vote Repub/TP/Christian Sharia Law !

    February 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • tnana

      Absolutely.......finally an intelligent comment, that is where the GOP/TEAGOP are heading. Sometimes I hope the Mayans got it right and this will all be over in December.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. BR

    This was a brilliant move to TRY to teach idiots about women's health. Satire can really get the point across, providing you can get your head out of your backside long enough to get the joke...AND the point. The less these commenters get it, more it proves they can't put themselves in another person's (a woman's) place and try to understand. It's by the grace of God that it's not men who can get pregnant. We wouldn't be having this discussion.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aloisae

      The problem, if you actually read the bill she introduced, is that it wasn't brilliant... it was actually very badly done if the intent was to use satire to gain support for opposition to a bill limiting 3rd trimester abortions.

      What the bill does is point out the inequity of the current system because she doesn't make it about the right to make choices about one's body.. she makes it about the right to control reproductive choices. This may sound like the same thing but it isn't. The actual result is realizing that men in our country already have very limited say in their reproductive choices compared to women since they can't insist on a termination if an unwanted pregnancy occurs (or at the very least terminate any parental responsibility they might have towards a child if they submitted a request, and provided the funding for, a termination) nor does a man have the right to insist that a termination performed after the point of viability be done in a way to best preserve the life of his offspring. The corresponding procedure to a vasectomy in terms of reproductive choice (again, how Neal worded her bill) would be a tubal ligation, not an abortion, so unless there is a bill being proposed to limit a woman's right to a tubal ligation her analogy is not only off but it also begs the question as to why men do not have the legal right to insist upon a termination in our country. If anything her satire SUPPORTS the bill she is proposing, it does not oppose it.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. scott stutzman

    colonoscopies for men every time they visit the Doctor or Emergency room whether they are a patient or accompanying a family member .

    February 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. AmurricaFyeah

    I propose a bill that says every official who is responsible for shipping our troops off to war and putting them in harm's way, MUST ship a member of their family to the front lines or enlist themselves immediately. That is all.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • faye

      Joining any of the armed forces is optional; it's not a draft.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I think the point here is that the people making the decisions about whether or not to send troops into harm's way have no personal stake in the matter. Therefore our men and women are sent off to die so that somebody's buddy profits from weapon sales or somebody else gets re-elected, rather than for some higher moral or ideological purpose.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. faye

    The equivalent for a woman would be to get a tubal ligation; not an abortion. To compare a vasectomy with an abortion is incorrect. An abortion kills another human; vasectomies don't.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • julibear

      But a vasectomy is a form of birth control, is it not? The Catholic church wants the right to deny women coverage of birth control, why would they allow coverage of vasectomies? Or is it just women's individual freedoms they want to curtail?

      February 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • EJS

      "An abortion kills another human." Really? Name them. All the humans I know have names.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • jess

      SATIRE... the reason for the bill is to show how stupid and biased and ridiculous the bill is.., thus showing light on other similar stupid bills... like telling a woman what she can and can't do with her body.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BR

    Aaa- you are truly a genius for your well said remark.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. epicjourney

    A vasectomy does not kill a child. Abortion kills babies that are on the warm side of the womb.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • WizardSleeve

      But think of all the sweet angel babies that do not get born because of spilled seed. The lord does not want us to waste that precious life giving nectar.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • epicjourney

      Wizardseed is an idjut. Sperm is not an egg, the child is not a child until the twain meet and fertilization occurs. Go put ur thinking cap on.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. epicjourney

    I think this rep suffers from group think. You need to get out more and actually hear the other side of this argument – or are your ears already fused shut?

    February 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. maff

    what up with this grey line streaking down the page? c'mon c n n!

    February 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. jess

    @ WizardSleeve YOU ARE A MORON.

    Situation: Doctor to Woman "Our tests conclude that you will die if you continue to try to have this baby full term but I can't legally give you an abortion because we are already passed the legal 20 weeks there-for both you and your baby are going to most likely die in labor"

    woman to Doctor: "so I have to fly to outside of the USA to have an abortion to save my life, so that my children aren't motherless and my husband not made a widow?"

    Doctor to woman "I guess it made more sense when I thought it was limiting women who just made poor choices with their bodies" SUCKS FOR YOU.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • epicjourney

      Jess, I do not think in this day and age we would deny a life saving procedure. The abortion issue is largely the on-demand abortions. The number of women who would lose their lives if they continued the pregnancy until term is so small it can be handled on exception basis. Jeez your brain is out the window I guess.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RJ

    You wrote:

    "EJS
    "An abortion kills another human." Really? Name them. All the humans I know have names."

    If that isn't one of the dumbest comments I've read on here for a long time...! Naming a creature is now a criteria for claiming humanity? If a baby remains unnamed for any amount of time, they are not yet human? Stillborn babies and unforeseen twins who are birthed without a name aren't human? What a fool!

    February 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • epicjourney

      good gosh, this proves my point. The pro abortion crowd has abandoned rational thinking skills in their drive to kill unborn children.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Peach

    Hahahahaha! That's GREAT!

    February 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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