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. Keith

    In the case of most female responses she didnt get her facts correct. I believe the probing bill was written by a female.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Patti

    Rep. Neal's point was to bring attention to the fact that men have NO business making decisions for women about THEIR body's. And to the that end, her bill did what it was intended to do.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      If that was her intent then she shouldn't have worded the bill to make it about men's reproductive choices and instead should have worded it about men making decisions about their bodies. What her bill does, because of how she worded it, is point out that men currently don't have the legal right to insist upon the termination of an unwanted pregnancy.

      February 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marlibno

    ha ha ha! What else .our politicos come up with. oh yeah, shouda got a cigaret to smoke after the last screwing

    February 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ???

    Oh come on, this is political warfare. Instead of Democrats and Republicans working with each other on issues they have opposite ideas on, they work against each other by spinning around ideas from their opposing sides. So the left wing pretends to be the right wing and the right wing pretends to be the left wing. It is like saying the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing and vice versa. Want to drill on a wildlife reserve? Have some engineers drill pipes from the surrounding area at an angle in the same way you scoop ice cream from its container. Have a problem with illegal immigration from Mexico? Schedule a diplomatic negotiation summit with the leader of Mexico and work something out. Have a problem with abortion? Knock on every single living human individual's door in the world until you realize the world is a small place after all.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. opinion8it

    Good point. Next we should allow men to get prostate screening unless women in the neighborhood approve by a favorable vote.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • opinion8it

      "not allow men"

      February 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      women all over the country need to stand up to the "pro-life" idiots who are trying to manipulate these poor girls out of an abortion.....what they may see on a sonogram in not a baby but a fetus or an embryo who would not be viable unless months were added to the gestation......it is a cruel joke to deny these poor girls what they need.....to get rid of a potential they are NOT ready to care for. To be a parent is a big deal and abortion is not, especially in the early months when a fetus is not viable out of the womb. I would like to see these defiant right wing republican women take full responsibility for the children born out of trickery and manipulation as their mothers were not ready to have them ! shame on these righteous people.....they have no right to tell other women what to do !

      February 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ct

    Of course our government should be ran like some comedy central anchor.

    And the band played on!

    February 24, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Well, the Comedy Central anchor has a better grasp of reality...

      February 24, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rob A

    Apples to apples?
    I would just like Rep. Neal to exlain why are we comparing vasectomies to abortion... wouldn't the gender equivalent be hystorectomies? If a man would choose to abort his unwanted child without the consent of the mother it would be a severely punishable crime, however the alternative is quite common. Apparently "equal to" can mean whatever Washington chooses it to mean and the rest of us who rely on what the government teaches in the education system are sadly mistaken.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. WDinDallas

    No wonder congress sucks so bad!

    February 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • HeyGenius

      This is going on at the state level.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Geo

    The funny thing about this is that they are comparing Abortion to a Vasectomy when it is completely unrelated. A vasectomy is the equivalent of a woman getting her tubes tied, not an abortion. I'm sorry but your logic is flawed. These are the stupid people that we have elected to represent us. I have no qualms about men being responsible for that which they help conceive. The issue at hand is that the decision to have intercourse should be taken with the realization that a life can be created and you should be responsible for that life.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And yet another one misses the point completely. The issue is this: if government can dictate reproductive practices to women it should do so for men. Get it?

      February 24, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryLand

      Agreed. Abortion is not being compared to contraception. It is the issue of control that is being considered. Why should the government be permitted to regulate the medical practices of women but not those of men?

      Don't like it? Guess what? Neither do the women who are being treated as lesser beings.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jessica

      You are missing the point. The point is that you no one has the right to tell anyone what to do with their private parts. No one has the to tell someone else how to live their life or how make their own personal decisions.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      abortion was never met to be a contraceptive but when these right wing fools get into the law making issues and make sure the poor ignorant girls have no way to get contraceptive and end up in despair having abortions, who is really at fault ? planned parenthood clinics are being stressed as their budgets are cut. If girls are unable to keep their legs together and avoid sex at any cost, who is to be responsible for a possible offspring? the population is exploding due to a lack of education and planning. Let them have their abortion but let's make sure they do not get pregnant again for years....implants are available...let's do it. Better have an abortion early than killing your kid later.....have you seen the news lately ?

      February 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Navin Johnson

      Vasectomy and Abortion are related because they have to do with reproduction AND they are both legal medical procedures. DUH! I say that they pass a law that any man that wants to get a vasectomy has to submit to a colonoscopy. Virginia wants to pass a law demanding a medically uneccessary and intrusive test be performed before an unrelated medical procedure also be performed. They should equally apply it to men and for women.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryLand

      Well, the proposal you mentioned has been defeated; it's been decided that requiring a vaginal ultrasound is an intrusion that would infringe on the rights of women guaranteed by the 4th Amendment (I think).

      February 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryLand

      Well, the proposal you mentioned has been defeated; it's been decided that requiring a va gin al ultrasound is an intrusion that would infringe on the rights of women guaranteed by the 4th Amendment (I think).

      February 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tina

      These replies miss the point! The issue isn't about "controlling" women - it's about whether or not there is another life that needs to be protected. The government does not control a women's reproductive decision to get her tubes tied - the logical equivalent of a vasectomy - the Right's push is to control the decision to terminate a life. To compare abortion to vasectomy is indeed a flawed analysis. That said, the Representative admitted she just wanted to find SOME procedure to make men understand. The problem, of course, is no such procedure exists since the life will always be carried by the woman. Not sure what we conclude, but let's not pretend this is all about "controlling" women.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hoping40best

      It's not about the flawed logic, it's about messing with male reproductive system like the females reproductive seems to be always the main topic. I would like to see any bill that pertains to females must automatically have a corresponding male bill but extreme. Being men with severe consequences for spilling their seed every where should bring jail time and tattoos stating the offense as well as penile shortening or castration. Controlling our own bodies is our choice not the government.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. YeahItsMe72

    I don't think they add these clauses for satirical purposes. They add them as poison pills. When a Republican has some anti choice bill to prevent abortions, a democrat could add a clause around ejaculating only in a woman's vagina to make the bill absurd. That way during elections you can paint someone who voted for it as out of touch 'so and so voted that men only can ejaculate in a woman's vagina' etc.
    It's not humor it's just how our political system works

    February 24, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. august washington

    Stop voting for the lesser of two evils:

    CTHULU 2012

    February 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hello

    If women can not have birth control men should not have ED drugs..
    Any man who has those drugs in the body need to be put in prison for 20 yrs.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JOJO

    Absolutely NO Viagra, Cialis etc, because erections or lack there of, ARE NOT A LIFE-THREATENING ILLNESSi! Also you must get prior approval prior to any surgeries involving the penis or the scrotum. And men will need to account for ALL ejaculations. These possible babies may be our future.(sorry for the deliberate sarcasm-HEHE) If you guys are game, then so are we. Let the games begin!

    February 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. eep

    It should be law that people on CNN at least wash their hair. That's some nasty stuff right there. On the verge of shingles & lice.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jessica

    It's simple. I think she has a point. People want to push their religious or personal views on others and they fail to realize that it is an invasion of privacy. No one should regulate what we do with our private parts. No one.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      Exactly right. The fact that society has to put up with righteous and demented people like the right wing evangelist women is bad enough, but to allow them to tell the rest of us what to do is unbelievably gutsy. They will not get away with it. I refuse to believe the majority of the women in the US are "pro-life" ....by the way it is the wrong terminology...again, they are trying to manipulate. It is "AGAINST ABORTION" and it has little to do with life. We are all pro-life as no one wants to die until our proper time....get it ?

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