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. MiGrant

    More SILLY POLITICIANS wasting our countries time and resources....You all need to be fired!

    February 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • MiGrant

      Make that: "wasting our country's time and resources"... :)

      February 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BK

    Because the only way to cope with our government is to laugh hysterically. If you stop for too long, you realize how screwed we are.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cyn507

    I do not want a bunch of old, bald christian men deciding anything for me, particularily contraception or anything to do with my body. I want religon out of politics all together. These zealot bible thumpers make me sick. Get your own house in order before pretending to tell the rest of us how to live. Pathetic freaks, the lot of them.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ryanWI

      Nobody is telling you how to live. (On this issue anyway.) All we are saying is that if you want something, you should buy it for yourself. Funny how we say it's not the church's business what goes on in the bedroom, but the same people think the church should have to pay for it.

      February 24, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dav

    Abortion is murder ;you babble all you want.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jk

      Actually, making a hotheaded assertion without evidence is a good definition of babbling. Does your computer monitor have a mirrored screen?

      February 24, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      It is only thought of as murder by stupid thiests. Go read your bible and leave real humans alone.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • elvisisALLah

      War in Iraq and Afghanistan = murder, Death penalty= Murder
      Do you just pick and chose what you think your god wants?
      God=Silly people
      nothing fails like prayer

      February 24, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      oh good the atheists came out tonight. Maybe you should try to get outside a bit instead of sitting at a computer all day. Im sure your cats think your nuts

      February 25, 2012 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Ahh any level biology teacher will tell you 'life' begins at conception, look it up its a biological fact. You may have a problem with it being 'murder' the whole pro-life pro-choice.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Betsy

      Then I am a serial killer haha

      February 25, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dedandra

    Please. She is making a very valid point. A lot of women on this country are furious about the recent debates. How would a man feel about 5 women deciding on his contraception? Get the F away from us...and BTW the GOP just lost the election. We are 51% of the voters and we are energized and pissed.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • dowman5744

      A man weeps because his girlfriend decides to kill his unborn child. How is that fair? A vasectomy isn't gonna kill the woman's unborn child. The fact that a woman can murder her man's child outta spite is sickening. Despite what the media says, men do love their children. We are not all knuckle-dragging neanderthals as we are portrayed.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Did the weeping man offer his girlfriend any other alternative choices?
      I can totally sympathsize with him, if he was aware and she maliciously did it anyway....did he offer to take the baby after birth and raise it on his own?
      With no imput from her? Or did he just want to play daddy when it was convienient for him?
      Because I have seen this scenario before, and it generally doesn't turn out well.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      And I'm sure the holocaust didn't happen either Dedandra

      February 25, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      Cry all day dude pull out and practice honor "hears to getting onher staying onher don't come inher come honor" and these girls wouldn't need to clean up your idiot mess go cry to to the priest I hear they got treats for little boys who can't understand normal thinking

      February 25, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      take a college level course on ethics and then come back and talk to me bud

      February 25, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      Oh wait im sure you cant afford it with your food stamps

      February 25, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      this reminds me of a little story about eugenics, oh it was so liberal and progressive. I'm sure it would have been right up your alley.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul in Houston

      OK that is absolutley insane thinking. A vasectomy is a method of birth control, abortion is not. Yet there are some women who choose to use it for that. So before you go spouting off make sure you know what you are talking about.

      February 25, 2012 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
    • YogerTheOgre

      @ Nick. That's funny! Pull out and come honor! RFLMAO!

      February 25, 2012 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
  6. Navin Johnson

    You have old Republican men, that probably haven't had sex in 20 years, writing up these laws. They were taught sex was a sin and that is how they view it. 11th century view points creating 11th century types of laws.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • helinahandbasket

      Yes lets all have s ex and get pregnant and have abortions. in facts lets make it extra fun and just eradicate the entire US population. No more babies allowed, all of them will be aborted and then we can repackage the dead body's and feed them to the living.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      Sounds tasty only if it's christan babies can't stand the kosher or hallaa babies you now what I'm talking about you sick...

      February 25, 2012 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      To all pro choice we should abort the fetus the christan way get drunk till there's blood coming out yeah fun

      February 25, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      Im not christian nick

      February 25, 2012 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      Ah someone think I referring to him how cute

      February 25, 2012 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • JackylinArizona

      @helinahandbasket – hey, if you do not want an abortion, more power to you, but you should really leave it up to the women and or the couples to decided. It is not you place, the governments place, or hell even Gods place to tell me and my wife what we can and can not do....If we want an abortion, and God finds it wrong, I personally will deal with him when I die, until then STFU and mind your own business....

      February 25, 2012 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. steal will

    funny– does not matter what set you claim (bloods-crips) (dems-pubs) their primary foundation is based in deceptive measures. they are the gangs of D.C

    February 24, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. SafeJourney

    Keep religion OUT of politics and government. Period.

    February 24, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • dfausett

      And vice versa.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      lets have day before birth abortions and just to add some fun we will put the dead ones in your lawn.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Getting tired

      I'm gonna be the guy and say that abortion has little to do with religion. It just happens to be the case that the biggest anti-abortion people out there are religious. I don't fancy myself particularly religious, but I am also against abortion.

      I had an atheist friend against abortion

      February 25, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. SaveUS

    And we wonder why we don't see any real work done in Congress.

    Reproductive choices are fine they affect the man and women. Abortion affects a third person. Not the same thing.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • elvisisALLah

      Not a person until it can survive outside the womb. Until then it is a choice.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      Yeah. And also you bother me. To be honest we should be able to have a vote to get rid of you from this planet. If you can k ill the unborn then you can k ill the born as well.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      Hey hell it would be one thing if your comments sounded christan but they sound like you do the devil work any one knows souls for heaven and hell start at birth you devil lover

      February 25, 2012 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      Well now you know how the pro-choice argument sounds to me

      February 25, 2012 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • helinahandbasket

      the reason Im posting this is because i am so sick of liberals who feel that they are the "cutting edge" of society and that somehow there ideas are sane just because it came out of a liberals mouth.

      February 25, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      i thought it was nice to see a foxinite trying to get real news but I guess you just wanted to talk out the brown hole

      February 25, 2012 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. banasy©

    Doesn't anyone see how this commitee, comprised of men, debating anything to do with women is just plain absurd?
    It doesn't matter what the issue is...not having a woman on the panel debating women's issues is just plain asinine.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ms

      @banasy© ....you are exactly right.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Thank you, ms.
      How are you today?

      February 25, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. TheBuckStopsHere

    Failed parallels do not equate to satire.

    February 25, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Nicole

    Why not demand that any man who has fathered 3 children or more by 3 women or more be given vasectomies.Or, better yet, use the database of the Child Support Agencies nationwide to round up all the dead beat dads from every state.Let the Federal Border Patrol round up all those men who never pay the child support they owe, nor the arrears,and require that every health insurance companies provide the vasectomy procedure for FREE to those men! Lets stop behaving as if a woman's body is the property of the United States government rather than her own! We have so many agencies that are not affecting real change that my proposed bill could guarantee these departments work. Lastly, we the American people must realize one thing about abortion. If a woman chooses not to bring a kid into this world that's her choice. Why do we want to force a person to keep a kid that they clearly do not want? Only so the child can be abused, and neglected? At the end of the day, who really ends up paying for that kid...we do- the American public! Either thru welfare, taxes for their education or for their prison confinement we are left paying the bill for a kid a parent knew they were not going to raise well. So stop limiting a persons ability to make choices for themselves. God gave humans the ability to choose to believe if He is real or not. If the creator does not push himself off on others why do we?

    February 25, 2012 at 12:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • helinahandbasket

      yeah and Adolf Hitler thought he was right too... oh wait

      February 25, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  13. megin

    Satire, great just what we need junk laws. How about doing your job. Have politicians ran out of things to do? So she wants to bring back partial birth abortion fine just say that and while we are at it stay out of my lunch box!!! since its my body...Then why !!! are these same democrats telling us what to eat hypocrites

    February 25, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      Well, no, she was trying to make a point...but youhave a point also.
      No one should tell one what to eat.
      No one should take away a women's choice.
      It's up to individual resposibility as to what happens to one's bodies, if those things are *choices*, such as an extra cheeseburger, or an pregnancy.
      Legistalture to take away rights is never a good thing.

      February 25, 2012 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  14. SPENT

    Trendy; Selective breeding! Zeig Heil, mein herr!

    February 25, 2012 at 12:58 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. r0140

    if a man doesn't get a say if he wants to keep the baby, he equally shouldn't be held responsible for child support if he didn't the baby.

    February 25, 2012 at 1:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • rosethornne

      No. He already made the choice to be potentially responsible. The only way he becomes actually responsible or actually off the hook, is after the woman makes her choice.

      When I tell you to very literally mind your own fu#king business, this is what I mean: as a man, your business lasts either for the rest of your life or for a few minutes, and it isn't up to you which one. As a woman, her business lasts for the rest of her life or a few weeks, and the choice is up to her.

      Keep your scabby little business in your pants if you can't accept that reality.

      February 25, 2012 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
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