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. Elizabeth

    Every young woman is told to get annual gynecology exams when she turns 18, whether or not she has ever had a relationship, just to make sure that she is O.K. Endometriosis, cancer, and other problems can be treated or prevented that way.
    But the men on this comments list think that health has something to do with men's rights. If you started having prostate problems at 16, and could lose your ability to have children by 30, or if you were doubled-up in pain because of your reproductive organs, you would be lining up at the doctor.
    Having a baby is part of women's health. If she is married, it is hoped that decisions involve both her and her husband. If she is not married, then why haven't all the men prevented pregnancy in the first place? It is easy for them to prevent it. Take some responsibility and stop whining. I have never heard a man complain that he needs to spend more time and money on his wife and family; how much do you think that women notice?
    Just the fact that there were NO women on the panel that discussed contraception should tell you something. Do you know that hormones are also used as treatments for some chronic conditions in women that have nothing to do with pregnancy? You probably don't know that, because these hearings were a farce. It looks to me like the House of Reps. all need rectal exams. I would not be surprised if they all develop problems; you don't insult all of womenkind without being cursed for it.

    February 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shakti

      Right on!! Very well said.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      If they did all have rectal exams, the doctors would find they all have their heads up there.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Oh poor baby born a woman im sorry. Bless your heart. Maybe we can get some sort of social program that hands you money for your "handicap".

      February 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bri

      Well stated.
      I suffer from one of those chronic conditions. Something as simple as a little bit of estrogen every day gives me back the quality of life that ever person deserves.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      exactly!!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      David: you need to hush now on matters that you have no understanding of. Shhhhh.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Quid Malmborg

      Thank you for your response. Guys like "David" must spend their lonely, waking hours wondering why women want nothing to do with them, not to mention the rest of the human species. What a useless tool.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      @ Quid Malmborg – No my wife is very happy that she married me infact one of my best qualities s th fact that I dont put up with whiney people who can't except te facts of life. And who cant stand that we bail every GD person out of every mess they ever put them selves in. No I: dont have pitty for that. But you bleading hearts will be ocntent till every parrasite in this counrty bleads us dry of every penny we have and we will all drown off into a sea of unresposibility.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Whatthe...

    Thank you Rep Neal.

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

    I propose a bill that says all politicians currently in office should report to their local military base for immediate execution. That should get the ball rolling for government reform.

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

      OR, you could stop voting for people just because they are a Republican or a Democrat or because you saw them in a commercial on TV. Maybe then we'd stop electing the same...idiots...over...and...over....and...over. I know you will say you vote, but the statistics let me safely assume you don't.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guff

      Bill – what's the point of voting if you have to chose the lesser of 2 evils EVERY ELECTION?

      February 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • LittleBearFN

      Guff - Get someone to run that you want to run.... Only reason these people run is because someone is financing them or they are self financed...

      February 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guff

      As simple as that eh Littlebear?

      February 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      @ Guff

      Actually, if you read what I said, you'd see I specifically stated that people need to stop voting for one of the two parties just because they saw them on TV or because of their party. The fact that you believe this to be an impossible feat proves without a doubt the effectiveness of the Democratic/Republic narrative, which is that they are the only choices.

      Sadly, Ron Paul is the first person to truly capture that desire for a "third option" in the elections. But, what is more sad than that is that you think your vote HAS TO GO to a mainstream political party. With millions of zombies like you shambling about the streets of our country, things will never change.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      No, not execution .... just deploy them to Afghanistan.

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

      Oh no Bill, I firmly understand what you are saying. I myself believe this 2 party system simply does not work. The sad reality is that one of 2 men will be elected, either Dem or Rep. While I would love to break this vicious circle of "politics as usual", it just isn't going to happen in today's USA.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. HerpADerpA

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is how much your elected representatives think of your tax dollars that they are wasting day in and day out with asinine frivolity such as this.

    February 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      never heard of satire, i take it? whether you agree with it or not, i'm curious if you have the intellectual capability to recognize the points that the bills' authors were trying to make. For example, Vertebrate Catholic is bat poop crazy in my opinion, but I can at least understand and recognize their view point. If they delivered it satirically, I am comfortable knowing that I would recognize it for what it is, and not be griping about something that completely misses the point, such as you've done here today.

      Read a book. Or a magazine. Just read something. Satire exposes idiots too easily.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • LittleBearFN

      You Mean like the anti-contraceptive bill? I am with you!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • NitPikkr

      Completely agree. Roe v Wade has been decided years ago. Why are representative still wasting time on abortion when so many are still out or work?

      February 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • saopaco

      Bill, you assume that the OP does not understand satire. Perhpas he does not. Perhaps he does, and is still annoyed that resources are being wasted on satirical bills when they could be used on something productive?

      Tone down your bombast, it just makes you look like a jerk.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      No HerpaDerpa is right. Its not just satire. It's poor satire at that. There is no connection. Sperm is not a "life" doesnt have "conciousness" and if they do they dont sound like rosanne bar or joh travolta. So every time I yank it I am committing mass genocide? is that it? Really? Adults on capitol hill are dicusssig this? Pretty sure I made that joke in 3rd grade. Maybe I should run my 3 and half year old for pres.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • MyTake

      If it make one think about the impact of other pending legislation then it's done it's job ... and in the end good for the democratic process. Thus, not a waste. It certainly has garnered attention.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      Yes, that's what they're doing ...wasting time ... ALL OF THEM, not just the ones who actually have enough wit to craft and introduce satirical legislation.

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

      @David

      The point isn't life or not, it's the control a woman has over her body. Nobody on the pro-choice side has ever based their stance on a desire to arbitrarily terminate life, a simple point that most pro-life people simply refuse to accept or even acknowledge. It's always been about personal control over personal decisions, again a point that pro-life refuses to acknowledge.

      For all the government hate I read on this website, I am shocked to see so many people laying down and letting the government tell half of the population what they can do with their bodies. Would you all let them decide what church you go to, would you let the government tell you what music to listen to? The arguments against abortion rights will sound the same as the as the ones that dain to control other aspects of your life. "Morality." "Best interests of the children and society." Boo-hoo.

      If those arguments are ever made I am willing to bet my life's income that morality, religion, and life will be the "interests" that they have in mind. "Our best ones," I'm sure is what they will call them. Reminds me of Star Wars. Liberty will die to thunderous applause. It's rarely stripped away suddenly. Most of the time it's given away, bit by bit.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cheryl

    Create a bill for all Ordained Catholics to Adopt Children that are in CPS custody and pay them a monthly tied to assist the families...instead of harbouring molestors

    February 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JLG

    This is the stupidest thing I have heard in my entire life. This supposedly educated politician is drawing analogy where there is none. If the argument was is it okay or not for a woman to have her tubes tied, or have a hysterectomy, than a comparable bill for limiting men having vasectomies would make total sense. Each of these are methods for preventing pregnancy. Abortion is not preventing pregnancy, it is terminating it – and a completely different set of moral and ethical questions. I believe that she is HURTING the abortion cause more than helping because she is making obvious that abortion can be viewed as a primary mechanism for birth control rather than a last alternative. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid...

    February 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      There being no equilvalent for pregnancy in males, she had to make do to make a point...which you missed completely.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerrie

      I think there should not be anyone that has a right to make a decision about what I do as an individual as long it does not infringe on the rights of others. It always amazes me how all of the old white headed men think that they have the right to make decisions for women.

      As far as the satirical bills that are being proposed, what a waste of our money.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredODaCrap

      Being a representative of the people in her district, there is no reason to presume that she is educated at all!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      @ Cindy...What point was made? None. She was so off the mark that if she were a bomb she would have been dropped on mars. No point was made other than she was an idiot.

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

      Apparently reading comprehension isn't your strong suit...nor definitions. Hows about this: that legislature stays out of a women's uterus, AND men's little sacs.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      @ Sindy – Yeah that point was not even close in her bill. If thats her reasoning. Then she reall needs to be relieved of her seat cause her comprehention of the facts and the topics on hand is terrible at best. Comprehension is just fine. thats why it made no sense. But go on thinking so..sad for ya.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Amanda

    As a woman who has had an abortion i think it's important that that option exist. I could not have taken care of a child and quite frankly at that time I was drinking and doping so much the kid would have probably came out defective.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike the true American

      Must be an Obama supporter

      February 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      Party affiliation has nothing to do with a woman's choice.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • WizardSleeve

      Amanda I weep for you because while your baby will be at the side of Jesus in Heaven you will be burning in Hell!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Didn't that book you read say somethign about you not judging other people? And doesn't Ol' Holy One up there forgive people? Wouldn't a true believer recognize the chance for "redemption" that she still has available to her?

      Oh yeah, that's right, Christians are a people of Convenient Worship who are just as flawed as anyone else, even moreso considering the moral high ground they refuse to relinquish, even when it lets the rest of us look up their skirts.

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

      Bill I pray for you. While the book does teach redimntion Amadas soul is beyond such a thing.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindi in MD

      You should be ashamed!

      February 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Johan Goetz

    Somehow I knew planned parenthood would get this story published on CNN again - that Bloomberg money has come in handy.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      that must suck to realize your entire argument can be so easily undermined by a satirical bill. and if it isn't undermined, where's the counterpoint? Or are you just complaining so you have a reason to type words?

      February 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Veronica

    One cannot compare using abortion as birth control with getting a vasectomy.... which would prevent the conception of the
    life one is terminating...circle philosophy but true.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      I think the point was more along the line of "if men get to dictate the reproduction options of women, then women should be able to dictate the reproduction choices of males"

      February 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • jk

      One can if one has a brain in one's head, rather than a rigid little ideology someone stupid jabbed in there when you were a kid.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sindy

    All rhetoric aside, the point isn't when one thinks life begins or when it doesn't....it's all about rights being legislated away by men who do not know, and will never know, what it is like being a woman.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredODaCrap

      The point is EXACTLY when one thinks life begins or ends! The problem is people who don't think about the chance of getting pregnant until they are putting their clothes back on.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      Choice, and i mean CHOICE, should never be legislated away with, whether YOU or I agree with that choice or not.
      Yeah, I'm pretty tired of the crap, too...

      February 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      I have to disagree. The whole point is that you are affecting another life. The argument of when a life is a life is the key point. There is no analogy because pregnancy is unique. If you think a life is not a life until the entire body exits the mother, then that is how you state your views.

      If a person says a life is a life at say, 21 weeks of a pregnancy, where pre-mature babies have been known to survive. Then it is perfectly logical to believe that chemically or physically destroying the fetus after that point is the same as killing a baby .0001 seconds after birth.

      If I didn't think a life was a life at 21 weeks (or earlier in my opinion because I'd rather not get that when is a life a life question wrong as it is a pretty big one) then I would fall into the category of hey 'It's a personal matter, if you're not hurting other people then the government should stay out of it'.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredODaCrap

      Funny – It seems to me that a man has a CHOICE to use protection...and a woman has a CHOICE to not continue with the act that could possibly make a baby with a man who use protection. There are multiple ways to CHOOSE not to make a baby. What you want is the CHOICE not to have to deal with a certain consequence (the baby) of your actions!!

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

      Obviously I meant "a man who won't use protection"......Darn testosterone got in the way.

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

      @tired

      I wish my life was boring like yours. I'd much rather try to control other peoples' lives than do anything worthwhile with my own.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      @Bill

      You kind of miss the whole point when you try to minimize to a control issue. No one is blowing up CNN.com comments sections trying to increase government intrusion. The whole point is that there is another life involved. The entire discussion is about when life is a life. It's not a hygiene question, or a right to go to a doctor, or a 'right to do whatever we want' issue. It is really pretty simple, when does life begin. You purposely muddle the issue you when you try to turn it into something else.

      When does a life become a life to you? That's the only question that needs to be asked. Then you can discuss when life begins. Like I've said throughout, I say at 21 weeks into a pregnancy, a point at which babies have survived from is the appropriate place to begin the conversation. I personally back it up from there because I don't want to get the 'when is life a life question' wrong, because its a pretty big one.

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

    I propose that people start taking legislation seriously. I see why these "prank" bills are out there, but what if a state congress really seizes the idea on one and men are forced to get an anal exam to get ED medication? Let's not get crazy and pass some laws that we didn't really want in the first place.

    February 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • AL In Palm Beach County, FL

      You seem a little nervous...

      put the viagra down and take five steps backward.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      So? I see nothing wrong with that. These legislators need to know what it's like to get something shoved up their ... well, you get the idea ... just like they've been doing to us all these years.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TiredODaCrap

    Amazing that she felt the way to be taken "seriously" was to waste time with a joke of a law! Ms. Neal, you are the very definition of pathetic liberal!

    February 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sindy

      Anti-choice bills are just as big of a waste of time. They need to take care of WHO IS ALREADY HERE!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      Selective reading? You seemed to miss the fact that the first bill mentioned in the article was proposed by a Republican from Alaska, and copied by more of them in Wyoming.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Frank

    see what happens when you give a black woman a little bit of power? chaos!

    February 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      Chaos? No, just a good sharp dig at the pompous idiots who fill our legislatures.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jonathan

    The problem is that some laws, it's hard to tell whether they're being serious or satirical. There are real laws that are just as ridiculous if not more so than the fake ones.

    You know, I really wish they would stop beating some of these dead horses. We get it. You'd have to be living under a rock that fell on your head not to know the two sides to the abortion issue. Pro-life say that life begins at conception, and trying to abort it is murder. Pro-choice say that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body. No matter how many times you say it, no matter how many ways you say it, you'll never convince one side or the other to change their views. This issue goes too deeply to the very core of what it means to be human. One side sees themselves as the protectors of the lives of innocent children, the other side sees themselves as protecting the ultimate right of a person to decide what is right or wrong for their own body. The only way you might ever convince someone to change their mind on this is if it were proven without a shadow of a doubt when exactly life (whatever that means) begins, and I'm sure you would still have people stubbornly clinging to their old view. So stop wasting time with these ridiculous laws that won't change anything.

    Now the Gulf of America one, that one is better. Personally instead of trying to rename the gulf, I would make it about deporting the gulf, since it hasn't gone through proper legal channels to be an American resident. At that point, you open up the similarities to illegal immigrants, and how trying to deport 10 million people, while legally a valid action, would be logistically just as difficult as trying to deport the Gulf of Mexico. That's an issue that you could potentially sway people on. That issue comes down to the age old question of how do we balance justice with mercy. How do we acknowledge the contribution that illegals make to our society, and try to help those that often need it most, while still being fair to those who respect the law and come here legally, and showing that when you break the law, there is some form of consequence for it?

    February 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      Your point is well taken. Unfortunately, it's not going to matter one bit to the majority of posters here whose minds are already made up.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    thank you Jonathan for the book you wrote above, mind breaking it down into chapters next time for us?

    February 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • god

      thank you, frank, for proving beyond doubt that you have the attention span of a gnat.

      go away, now... the grown-ups are talking.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
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