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. erika

    No one is saying women cannot have their tubes tied to prevent pregnancy, the female equivalent to a vasectomy. The law is meant to prevent the woman from killing a baby, a child who has already been conceived.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kindasorta

      The laws that enable the fathers of children who have already been conceived and do not adequately support those children, also needs to change!

      February 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • helicohunter

      The best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies. So why are the Republicans trying to reduce access to birth control? Also, opposition to abortion is based on religion, not biology. Current knowledge of biology has changed the definition of death from absence of heart beat to absence of brain activity. It is our brains that mkae us human, not other body tissue. You can have a pig's heart, no arms, and no legs and still be human, but you can't make an animal human by putting its brain into a human body. The brain develops gradually over the course of a pregnancy. That's why I'm okay with 1st trimester abortions. One should have a very compelling reason for later abortions. Saving the woman's life is a very compelling reason.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • livinlife420

      My thoughts exactly, Thank you.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • livinlife420

      Thank you, intelligent response.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaa

      Better laws that would match the idiotic bills against women's reproductive rights would include: Every man who impregnates a woman would have to get a prostate exam and their dna placed into a database so that they could be tracked when they don't pay for support. Same thing when a guy wants viagra, but in addition he has to wait 48 hours and has to see a counselor. Plus he has to go through a gauntlet of religious fanatics screaming threats if any of his sperm is wasted.

      All the people complaining about the joke bills should consider what lunacy the original bills that the repugs float, trying to turn the country into a christian version of the repressive middle east.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Satan

      Like Bill Maher said "life begins at erection..", eh?

      February 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stairs2

      There is a very simple explanation for why (specifically) Catholic Republicans (and some Dems) are against birth control as well as abortion. It's because they are opposed to s e x outside of marriage. I know, I know....novel concept to most. What is this, the 18th century? But really, how bad would our lives be if people waited until they were at least in a loving and committed relationship to have s e x? A relationship where a pregnancy would not mean the end of the world, as most view it now. The number of abortions would probably go down significantly. I bet we would have fewer STDs floating around as well because people's partners would be much more limited. I understand that people who are married use birth control as well...but if a child is born into that relationship they are probably more likely to accept it and be prepared for it.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      The point is, it’s not your decision. Married woman also have unwanted pregnancies and abortions btw.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • paul

      Which is still none of the governments business

      February 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gort01

      no it isnt. its a group of laws specifically aimed at preventing women from insurance benefits for birth control, while men have unfettered access and coverage to Viagra, Cialis, penile implants, Prostate Cancer screenings, colon cancer screenings, etc etc. pay attention

      February 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheSchmaltz


      I've been married for 3 years. My wife and I are blissfully happy together. We both have good jobs and own a house together.

      If she got pregnant today, we'd be financially ruined. She has a physically demanding job she'd have to stop by 4-5 months. She'd go on light duty for a while at less than 40% pay and with 30% fewer hours, and after 2 months we wouldn't be able to make mortgage payments.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nico Greco

      To helicohunter,
      Your post is the dumbest thing I've ever read. What did you try to explain a lecture you just not even half understood after hearing it today?

      Our deaths are a result of Brain inactivity therefore our Brains make us Human???? What the Hell kind of statement is that!!!!

      Its our DNA that makes us Human not our Brains....
      DNA that is already set in both Sperm and in Egg Cells.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dorkus Maximus

      Having, conducting, or conspiring to have or conduct an abortion should be punished by death, don't you think?

      February 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kindasorta

    While all of this is funny and makes perfectly good points.....perhaps we have too many politicians with not enough to do that is worthwhile and who are clearly being overpaid with the peoples tax dollars.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnnie

      Exactly. Thank you.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Why don't politicians understand that the people want JOBS!!! Satirical laws are a waste of resources, especially when you consider that the authors know they will never get passed.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. wobbles

    so what i get from this is that democratic women politicians throw a bunch of BS legislation out trying o be funny instead of doing the business they were sent to the capitol for. Good job hoochies, good job.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • livinlife420

      No dfferent from repug men

      February 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • MonkeySender

      Not quite genius. It's about women wanting to start dialouge about why there are laws telling women what they can and can't do with THERE OWN BODIES, but god forbid there's a law telling men what they can and can't do.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Start dialogue in a press conference. Use your limited time as a legislator to do something about the failing economy.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      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.

      So is she a "hoochie" too or is that just when democrats do it?

      February 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      No, Einstein.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. livinlife420

    We are in dangerous times when a stranger can tell you what to do with YOUR body, if you don't believe in abortion, than don't have one. If you feel that way due to religion, why are YOU so worried YOU will be judged by anothers actions? We have close to 7 billion humans on this planet and we are trying to MAKE people have more by hindering Planned Parenthood, Here is a novel thought....Live your life how you see fit and let others do the same.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • BJ

      Somebody else sees the situation as I do. Let's take care of the children we already have. Or let each one of THEM take just one child they are trying to SAVE.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stairs2

      You are treading in dangerous waters with that mentality though. We can't all be permitted to run around living our lives and treating our bodies however we choose. That leads to an immoral and destructive society...a path which we are heading for already because of that mentality.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      What you consider immoral and what others may is subjective. You have no place to decide that for ME as long as it not affecting YOU. That is the point.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Courtney

      Thank you!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Johnnie

    This is outrageous. Don't these fools have anything better to do than write joke bills? Why are my tax dollars paying their salary again? If I don't take my job seriously, I'll get fired. If they don't take their jobs seriously, they trend on twitter.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. SherwoodOR

    Introducting a bill into a legistative assembly has very real financial costs to the tax payers. It is outrageous that our elected officials would waste tax dollars and abuse the legislative system this way. Shame on them.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • MonkeySender

      Yes, you're right. Because of this one bill out of 220,000, in a state I'm sure you don't live in, your taxes will skyrocket.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      You have obviously never paid attention to how state legislators spend at least 90% of their time. They had to pass a rule in CT that restricted our State House from wasting any more time naming bridges or specific stretches of roads after individuals or groups because of the amount of time they wasted on stuff like this. Considering we have a State land mammal, a state aquatic mammal, a state bird, a state insect, a state mollusk, a state tree, a state bacteria, a state flower, a state – oh, you get the idea. The problem is they keep adding to this list every year instead of dealing with the budget until the last minute, dealing with education, dealing with court appointments, etc.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      Joe,CT: unreal. Just unreal. I would think thatthe majority of the time would be spent figuring out where the money was going to come from to keep them in repair, rather than naming said bridges.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don

      Keep your God out of my government and this will not have to happen any longer. get it?

      February 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • jk

      It has a cost of about 1/20 of a cent for printer paper. Grow up.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sindy

    Is it just me or are the majority of bigmouths condemning abortions MEN?

    February 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Nope. The majority of people condemning abortions are exactly the people who biologically will never need one themselves, but they probably needed them for their girlfriends at some point or another to keep their wives from learning about them.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      . Thans for the perspective.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      My post was supposed to read: LOL. Thanks for the perspective.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      This isn’t a gender issue and it never has been, It’s a "culture issue". If you want to get angry at someone get angry at those you oppose. Republicans and Christians.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      @Joe – Thanks for contributing such a thoughtful comment. You must be really smart.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike the true American

      I'm a man FOR abortion!

      February 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Josh

    You know I was reading this and understood it was a joke but the sad thing is that NC the state I am from has proposed several bills such as the very important bill of renaming the Yadkin Valley river bridge ect and many bill like it in this past session. Our current unemployment rate is at 9.9% and out of the 54 bills proposed last session there was only one jobs bill proposed instead most of the bills I saw proposed was to Honor the state capital to restore confidence in government, and the list goes on.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Christopher

    Hilarious! She should run for a higher office. I wouldn't mind her representing me at all!

    February 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. nick

    so stupid

    February 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BJ

    At times when situations are THIS dire, humor is there to get us through to a brighter day.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Derek

    That bill is just utterly a joke, but im not surprised someone would think to suggest it. Vasectomies are not even close to an abortion after 20 wks, what the hell is this lady thinking? The bill protects irresponsible people from murdering unwanted children!!!

    My wife and I plan to have one more child, we currently have one loving son. I then plan to have a vascetomy as an responsible adult.

    What a joke!

    Why dont you write a bill that says once you have 5 kids on welfare, you get kicked out! Because welfare for 5 children is just as ridiculous as this bill that was geniously thought of!

    February 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      The joke is it went right over your head. It’s not meant to be a direct comparison.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don

      no one is murdering anyone zealot. That has been settled case law for generations.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • snagglez19

      Why dont you write a bill that says once you have 5 kids on welfare, you get kicked out! Because welfare for 5 children is just as ridiculous as this bill that was geniously thought of!
      Well since so many on the conservative right want to limit access to birth control let alone abortions we are going to have a lot more unwanted children because people have s_x! Yes, I know it is shocking, but people have been doing it for the entire length of human history (and the majority of that history outside of 'Christian marriage'). If birth control gets limited I can guarantee you that more people are going to end up on welfare. Why, you might ask. Well they will have families that are too large to support despite the fact that both parents might work. In fact it is common now – hence the term ‘working poor’.
      Now you suggested we limit welfare to families that have less than 5 children. Does that count men too? There are plenty of single men out there that have impregnated multiple women, but they do not have to pay in the same way as mothers because they do not have custody over the children. Also, what about families who have 6 kids? Do you expect them to turn over the ‘extras’ to social services? Do you think they should abandon them on the side of the road or even kill them to get the families down to the number you so arbitrarily suggested? “Sorry Jr. we took a vote and we are going to have to kill you because we can only have 5 kids and decided you are the weakest.” Despite what is suggested by the media, there is no such thing as a ‘welfare queen’ who sits in luxury. Welfare recipients receive about $930 a month in food stamps and housing stipends (based on a family of 4). They are also granted about $90 a month for each child. I spend more than that on lunches each month.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Luis

    I LOVE IT !!!!!! It's about time America started SEEING how stupid some of the stuff we do and say really is. George Carlin was extremely adept at that.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      You get it! So many people here don't, but you do! Right on!

      February 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Terry

    Hahaha, how hilarious, comparing a vasectomy to an abortion. That's so hilarious. At least get the analogy in your attempt at satire correct.

    Haha, lets compare masturbating to abortion, it's so analogous. No one is suggesting that the expulsion of an unfertilized egg from a woman's body should be outlawed.

    I appreciate a good joke, dry humor, even satire, but you have to at least have the competency to do it correctly.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      yea vasectomy compares better to contraception

      February 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BestWest

    O gosh...people, please...get over this issue and move on, already. Have your opinions and if you want, judge people – have fun with that but seriously, you cannot take away my right to do as I please with my own body...police your own lives. No one cares that you disagree with abortions...its simple...if you don't agree, don't get one....

    The real issue in this article is the complete waste of taxpayers' money...who is being held accountable for this complete nonsense??

    February 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      Sorry BestWest, there are tons of laws on the books that say you can't do everything you want to do with your own body. Now factor in that you are affecting someone else's body. At what point do you think a life is a life? How did you determine that cut-off? Do you even know what an abortion entails, especially later term abortions? It's not like the videos of a fetus trying to fend of a probe that is trying to destroy its body are fake. You might think they're used in a vulgar way to promote one side of the issue, but the reality is that does actually take place in many abortions.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      Sorry, Terry, but abortions and birth control aren't two of them, nor should they be.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
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