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. togirl

    honestly, i can't believe this is still an issue in the States. When are you going to give it a rest??

    February 25, 2012 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
    • MashaSobaka

      Trust me, darling, we're trying. But we've got some backward dip$#its over here who are making it kinda hard.

      February 25, 2012 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. nick

    a question how can a religious person claim morals when they think it is morally acceptable that they are able to dictate to someone else what medical treatment they can receive

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

    If it's DNA is different than yours it is not a choice it is murder. If I chose to drown my neighbor in saline solution it is murder. Same for an unborn child.

    February 25, 2012 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
    • nick

      But if drown in em vodka ots ok it's gods work

      February 25, 2012 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Danielle

    Or, here's a fun idea! Stop sleeping around, read a book, get a life, problem solved. I'm ashamed to be an American. Honestly, listen to yourselves! I know 6th graders smarter than a lot of you. Maybe I'll move to Nihon. They are much cleaner, politer, and literate than Americans are shaping up to be.
    Sincerely, a 12 year old

    February 25, 2012 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Liberal or conservative

    Ok, ok problem solved. Before a woman can get an abortion she must place her political affiliation down. No name, just political affiliation. At the end of the year release the numbers.

    I know more liberal single mothers then conservative. And they all sleep around the same. It seems that the strong liberal mother chooses to have her baby and still fight for pro choice.

    February 25, 2012 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ak

    You go girl...let men have to answer those same type of intrusive questions and follow "the majorities" decision and I bet reproduction rights will take on a different meaning.

    February 25, 2012 at 5:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. Marine5484

    I think many on here are missing the point of the article....it has become so ridiculous within our govt. that law makers are coming up with bills to counter the original bill....which will only lead to even more govt. inefficiency.

    February 25, 2012 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      And you get MORE government ineffeciency HOW??? After this congress, senate, supreme court and the president at what they call work, I really feel we would be better off just sitting back and having no leadership in washington dc at all!

      February 25, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. VRage13

    I call this wasting TAXPAYER MONEY!!! When politicians are wasting money like this, they need to repay it!!

    February 25, 2012 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Hendrix

      You are absolutely correct...this is a HUGE waste of taxpayer money! They should quit their stupidity and stop this childish nonsense.

      February 25, 2012 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bill

    We need a bill/law that prohibits any false or misleading statements by any government official under penalty of perjury and removal from office. Vis a vis, whatever they say is essentially under oath while speaking in an official capacity in office. Betcha that one won't get very far, LOL!

    February 25, 2012 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Hendrix

      You are a smart man Bill...that is exactly what we need. They should go to prison for perjury. The impact that they have when lying to the American people is certainly more significant than the impact of a person lying to a jury.

      February 25, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. 4commonsensenow

    I understand the point the woman is trying to make. Unfortunately it doesn't make sense. If you dont want women to take all the health responsibilty when it comes to intercourse, then why limit vacs. i guess this woman thinks it's better for a woman to continue with the pill once family planning is finished.It makes perfect sense for the man to be fixed as opposed to the woman for simple risk factors. So I respect her point, but the path doesnt make sense. Pay your taxes and contribute to society and all choices are yours to be made first. Live off the backs of taxpayers and continue to spawn with a means to fund it responsible and you now open yourself up to the state to whom puts the food on the table and pays the rent. This ofcourse is meant for habituals and as a deterent to just spawning and expecting society to pick up the pieces cause your selfish and irresponsible.

    February 25, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
    • barbara451

      it is called satire. Look up Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal to get an idea.

      February 25, 2012 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Charlybitme

      @4commonsensenow
      Really? Do you lack all forms of reading comprehension? The bill is supposed to make you realize how pathetic the reproduction debate is. One side is for people's rights and the other is based on some individuals that want to force their religion on the rest of us.

      February 25, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • ReadingForComprehension

      Hey, common sense, the point of her bill is that lawmakers have no business making reproductive decisions of any kind for men or women.

      February 25, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • JAC

      The point was that a large group of men seem to think it is alright to determine what a woman can do with her body, but oh, heck, no, no man is about to have someone tell him what he can or cannot do with his. It can't be both ways.

      February 25, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. barbara451

    If men could get pregnant, you could get an abortion at the 7-11

    February 25, 2012 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      If women were completely in charge, murder would be legal for women as long as they're PMS'ing

      February 25, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. Karen

    These people wasted how much time making up these fake bills and submitting them instead of taking care of real business. And we wonder why our government is so screwed up?

    February 25, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Better they waste time and play games because when they get serious taxes go higher, we get bridges to nowhere, and oil companies get bigger tax write off's....that is SCARY !!

      February 25, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. 61unsoc

    Turn arouond is fair play! Men have been at the point in every medical procedure for women...it is about time a woman stood up them! Go for it Baby! If the laws are going to be a woman can not get birth control, a man should not be able to get 'cut'! Unless it's for health reason. The two are for not making a baby...which is what this is all about. Prevention! Not religion, no government...its about prevention! If one is legal and the other is illegal,,,that is not right!
    Stick this one in your jock shorts Congress! Way to Go! I really hope this starts something good!

    February 25, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. csmallfield

    The biggest thing,beyond this anti-abortion bill, is that the whole thing is an example of wagging the dog. It's a topic that is divisive, controversial and sensational. Abortion is also not a real problem this country is facing. We don't have a negative population growth, we don't have an excess of funds to support unwanted children and social programs to help single mothers. People having abortions has literally zero effect on anyone other than the people having the abortions. While we do have real and actual problems, relating to the economy, foreign policy, taxes, undertaxed rich people, overtaxed middle class people, our military future, pro and anti immigration legislature, underfunded school systems, falling tests scores etc. Pretty much everything else we are dealing with is more important than an abortion debate, in terms of the health and security and future of the US.

    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • JAC

      Well said.

      February 25, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • StanCalif

      But our politicians have no answers for these "real" problems! Better to make something so stupid as abortion and birth control a main topic for debate! Gingrich just promised $2.50/gal gasoline! He has no way to deliver on this promise! If he knows something that nobody else knows, let's hear how he can do this! Santorum would be pleased if every woman in America is forced into delivering 6 or more babies, but only if they are Catholic! Romney would be pleased to have multiple wives, Gingrich would be pleased to have one wife at a time, but don't criticize him for dumping former wives! Does anyone see how the GOP regards women? Just like our "enemies", women are simply property in the GOP!

      February 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. truth teller

    Satire aside, the medical equivalent of a vasectomy for a woman is tubal ligation, not abortion. (Some people are not interested in facts, they just want to stir up anger and resentment so people mindlessly agree with them.)

    February 25, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
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