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. Fiona

    I love the women-backed proposals to get back at our (unfortunately) elected misogynist legislators. I'd like to propose mandatory castration unless a man can prove he's worthy breeding stock.

    February 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PandoraDoggl

    Vasectomy isn't an analog for abortion; it is an analog for tubal ligation. No one is suggesting we ban tubal ligation. These satirical bills would probably carry a little more weight if they weren't completely non sequitur.

    February 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      "completely non sequitur" You make a law about my private area and I'll make a law about yours. Seems fair to me.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. WillerB

    Go for it gals. Always though that men should be barred from such legislation unless the were willing to pay the piper for the child's education, child care services, finest prep schools and the best of universities that the kid is accepted at. [Oops, hitting in the pocketbook is unfair? Want the responsibility for making the decisions withou the pain?]

    February 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TUTU

    Sperms are sacred .Life begins at sperm. look at all those virulent tadpoles ....so men has to be brought accountable for how they treat the little humans that God has given them. Any drop waisted has to be brought accounted for . All christian men should collect their weekly liitle lifes and present it to church especially if catholic. May be Rick santorum can set the example here. For too long men have been trivializing their role in God given Life and giving all the responsibilty to women. Time for Change has come. LIFE BEGINS IN THE SPERM ....

    February 27, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LJ

    Line every man up, put them in the stirups and give them a vasectomy, that shoud solve the birth control controversy.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pam

    First let me say I have always been pro-choice. It is every woman's right to make any decision as to whether or not to have a child. Men has no place in that decision; they cannot possibly understand the feeling of helplessness when you have to surrender your reproductive choice to someone else. However, attempting to pass legislation that the Senator knows has to know is ridiculous and outright stupid, is a waste of the legislature and Senate's time and a huge waste of the salary she is being paid by the taxpayers. Lawmakers on both sides need to stop being stupid and pay attention to some real issues here. Additionally, vasectomies are not the enemy of women's rights; They are doing what should be done; making decisions about birth control a shared decision and allowing men to take on that responsibility.

    February 27, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Great_Idea

    I hear that within the next 5 years it may be possible for MEN to get pregnant. This should solve the problem because men are soooo much smarter and more responsible than woman, I am sure there will be NO ABORTIONS!

    February 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tensor

      The pregnant men in every city would stampede over each other to be first in line at Planned Parenthood's doors. The funniest reax to idiotic men: "To protest a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell attached an amendment that would require men to have a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication." Her amendment only failed by 2 votes. 😉

      February 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jinpei

      Sorry, that's complete science fiction. Men will NEVER be able to Accidentally 'Get Pregnant'.

      What may be doable, is that an embryo can implanted into someones abdomen, but without a Uterus, the chances of survival of the host and the infant are very small.

      February 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common sense over fear.

      The more women jump on this ‘man hating’ wagon the more they become like the REPUBLICAN CHRISTIANS (men and women) that are pushing this anti-abortion laws. I am a man and as with every other man I know say for my best friends Baptist father we support pro-choice.

      February 27, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skegeeace

      Men can't stand to be kicked in the crotch- how are they going to endure hours of labor? They'd be the first ones in line at the clinic.

      February 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • jez

      People always want to legislate that which they cannot live. Men are absurdly envious of women.

      February 27, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sharon

      Yah. If men could get pregnant, there would be abortion clinics on every corner and birth control pills would be dissolved in the drinking water, instead of flouride.

      February 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • sortakinda

      So if the physically impossible could happen, I'd immediately turn into a murderer? I guess you're lucky I don't own a gun.

      February 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jim Steele

    A vasectomy occurs prior to conception; an abortion occurs after conception. That is the difference.

    What a moron!

    February 27, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Are you really that stupid?

      February 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • sharon

      Really? Or is it more true that after vasectomy THERE IS NO conception?

      February 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • NavyAirVet

      Jim, you made your point clearly and with a very good logic. Thanks for your insight.

      February 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tom

    Ah yes, satire that wonderful form of humor that only people who agree with already get.

    February 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Genny

    This is one of the STUPIDEST things I have ever heard of. This is for the man or couple to decide on Not this woman or our country. This is for an individual to decide. What has our country come too if you can not have the freedom to choose what you want to do with YOUR OWN BODY?

    February 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • PennyNot

      Although I agree with the stupid part, the man/couple have very little say, only the woman whose body houses the embryo.

      February 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common sense over fear.

      Which is a miscarriage of justice. I am pro-choice but until the day men get a say (even if not the final say) yet have to be responsible for the consequences there is no equality.

      February 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ANM

      Indeed, Genny, it IS stupid. It is EXACTLY as stupid as someone trying to tell a WOMAN what to do with her body.

      Do you get it now?

      February 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Althalos

      @ANM who is telling women what to do with their bodies?

      February 27, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Straight men complain but it is what it is; if you play with her, you may have to pay for her. Thanks for reminding me why gay is a synonym for happy.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. GKRL

    Georgia Republican Rep. Doug McKillip's bill is a poor excuse for legislation.

    February 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rhobere

    glad to hear politicians are wasting their own time for the sake of satire. If citizens can't file frivolous lawsuits, then lawmakers shouldn't be allowed to propose intentionally frivolous laws. Not only does the latter waste way more tax payer money than the former would, but it isn't cute. it isn't funny. and it isn't going to do anything but further divide the parties. They're supposed to be working TOGETHER not making passive aggressive jabs at each other.

    February 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Terry G

    Rep. Yasmin Neal – looney tunes

    February 27, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Althalos

      Yep that pretty much sums it up. I'm still wondering if my tax money goes to her paycheck......

      February 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. mushrooms

    Really no need to apologize for the "ejaculation satire". No more rediculous than 99% male, Republican dominated State and Federal legislatures interfering into womens' reproductive rights. Such pandering to the fanatic religious right that thinks it has dispensation to impose its beliefs upon all "non belivers" is going to cost the GOP the Presidency in 2012. To bad, because but for that pandering I would be voting GOP in 2012.

    February 27, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NaturalBornCitizen

    Republicans should not be allowed to swim in the "Gulf of America." They may leave a bathtub ring.

    February 27, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
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