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. Michael

    The comparisons do not make sense.
    Vasectomy would be equivalent of getting tubes tied.
    Ejaculating would be the equivalent of menstruating.
    Abortion is murder. The only case it is acceptable is if the life of the mother is at stake.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      Actually, ejaculating would be the equivalent to ovulation.

      But you are right on the vasectomy being the equivalent to tubal ligation.

      In terms of reproductive choice, which is how Neal worded her satirical bill, the equivalent of the bill she is opposing would be denying men the right to insist upon the termination of a third trimester pregnancy... which we already do. In fact, men have no reproductive choice once there is a pregnancy.

      Neal's satire was very poorly done. Unless she really is lobbying for a man to have the right to insist that a woman have an abortion if he doesn't want to be a father.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • andersod

      You must be a barrel of laughs at a party.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryLand

      Baloney. "Murder" is the legal term for "unlawful killing." Abortion is legal and is therefore not murder. Get an education.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • amazed

      Ejaculation is not equivalent to menstration. Menstration rids the body of an egg that is no longer viable. Semen is viable reproductive material.

      Seriously, some of the comments from (with names that look like) men here are truly uneducated about reproductive issues. You're on the internet, go ahead, google some of this stuff. We'll wait. And while your at it, google a bit about things that hormones are used to treat in women besides birth control. Seriouly, we'll wait. Because until you educate yourselves about this stuff we might as well be talking to the GOP Bozos that are throwing this shit at us right now.

      And the whole point of this argument is Government isn't telling men what they can and can't do with their bodies. The point has nothing to do with what procedures it regards. They aren't telling us that no person can have moles removed or get treatment for cancer. But they are telling ONLY WOMEN what we can do with our reproductive systems.

      Grow up men. You only get the fun part. So stay out of the business of actually growing a couple of cells to a complete baby inside a body. When you can do that, then you'll have a say in that process.

      February 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jess

    @epicjourney it happens every day in Catholic hospitals. They are legally allowed to refuse doing the procedure thus having to transfer the woman to another hospital willing to do the procedure. It happens ever day. read up before you comment.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sean Russell

    "To those who take government most seriously, policy testimony from a comedian wasn’t so funny."

    -It wasn't funny to republicans. They don't take government seriously. Every bill they introduce is another cynical attempt to establish their own oligarchy.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • HWB

      When we open your brain all we see is Democrat no gray or white matter.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. enkephalin07

    That this journalist has to ask whether it's satire or not shows either how out of touch this journalist is, or how out of touch this journalist thinks this journalist's audience is.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Merkerb

    I like Rep. Yasmin Neal. We need more smart representatives like her.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. AnnoyedbyPolotics

    There is one major difference between a vasectomy and and abortion. In order to have an abortion, you must first be pregnant. if left alone, a man without a vasectomy will not produce a child on his own, where as a woman, already pregnant will.

    Comparing the two is utterly absurd. A man having a vasectomy is more comparable to a woman having her tubes tied. they are both forms of surgical birth control.

    For the record I am pro choice, but I find it really agitating that you as an elected official would use your time to push a bill you admit is done in satire. Your opinion is fine, but don't use a bill which will waste not just your time, but a lot of others, to make your point. Even a joke bill still goes through the process.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Merkerb

      Let me help you to understand. U need a sperm from a man and an egg from the woman. You cause birth control which the church is against when you do a vasectomy.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JDinTexas

      Ease up. Its a joke. The sky is not falling.

      February 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      both are invasive surgery that should be decided between the patient and his/her doctor(s). 'Nuff said.

      February 26, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Cindi in MD

    *stuck

    February 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. WizardSleeve

    Amen sister!

    February 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cindi in MD

    Amen sister!

    February 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cindi in MD

    WizardSleeve we need to chat you sound like my type of girl!

    February 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. oledad

    how do stupid people like this get elected to office?????

    February 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Merkerb

      OldDad, did you lose your mind already? If not, think carefully and you'll see what she's saying makes sense. Vasectomy is a surgical procedure for male sterilization and/or permanent birth control.(Wikipedia)

      February 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. saopaco

    You suck.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • richnutt

      Well, that is one means of Contraception.

      February 25, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • JEDJr

      You gargle.

      February 25, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Merkerb

    Well, would the catholics allow condoms? Sometimes when Black men leave it's because of the pressure from white society and their partners who disrespect them.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • csmallfield

      what are you talking about?

      February 25, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      Damn! Did you have to get a degree to string together non sequiturs like that...or are you just off on an incoherent rant?

      February 26, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Teresa

      This is perhaps the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard.

      February 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • ANM

      I agree. It is ludicrous that religious bigots want to control women's bodies.

      February 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common sense over fear.

      @Merkerb
      If they want respect the first thing they should do is the very BASIC reasonability of taking care of their kids. How sad is it the President of the U.S.A. went on national Tv to ask them to take care of their children…shameful.

      February 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • HWB

      Says who?

      February 29, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. andersod

    Sounds like you're "stuck" in the 1950's.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Merkerb

    ALL of you who disagree with this representative should be in Afghanistan or Syria fighting with your muslim anti-woman bretherns.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • oledad

      Mekerb, I didn't lose my mind. When making logical comparisons, a vasectomy is nowhere close to abortion. Comparatively speaking, a vasectomy would be logically compared to a woman having her tubes tied...both procedures are reversible. Abortion is not even on the same level with these two procedures and would be better compared to cutting off a man's package and watching him bleed to death. The difference is obvious....

      February 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
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