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. ted

    I bet Hitler was a real cut up initially.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fact

    The reason why this woman wants to eliminate vasectomy is because lesbians wouldn't be able to con innocent men into getting them pregnant anymore. This woman is an obvious man-hater that's ticked off that she'll need to pay to use a sperm bank moving forward. She left her plaid shirt & doc martens at home.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      you are likely wrong and clueless. Who needs your bell rang ?

      February 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • zing

      lol is right. she's ticked.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CGG

    I'm not for abortion. Matter of fact i believe it should be the women's choice whether she wants to abort or not. Government should not dictate what we can and can't do. Wheres our freedom at? Oh right in the hands of our corrupted government. I disagree with every single dumb stupid bill mentioned.. Its time for We the people of the US to stand up and over throw our government.. We see so much up rise in country's all over the world. Its time for our own, its time to bring the true Free America back into picture.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim

    Any politician who deliberately turns the political process into any more of a joke than it already is, should be assaulted.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. whuh?

    Satire? This crazy lady is wasting taxpayers' money by introducing this joke of a bill. If women want to get knocked up to collect welfare $ that's fine, but men who don't want any part of it – have a choice. Lesbians looking for free DNA to use, and then taking the men that knocked them up to court – NOT getting married – and then suing the men for child support - (it happens all the time folks) - while collecting welfare at the same time - heh these men have a way out. This lady needs to be put away with the rest of her lesbian lovers.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaryLand

      Do you even know how to tie your own shoes or do resort to Velcro?

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

      YOU need to be put away. She is right !

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

      i think you've ticked off a couple of lesbians.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. crc

    If you've neer seen an abortion you need to and then see if it doesn't change your mind. Murder is murder no matter what you call it! Just ask Jesus!

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

      Abortion isn't "murder", idiot. "Murder" is a legal term with a specific definition. Abortion has never been considered "murder" even when it wasn't legal. Which, for your edification, was a shorter period of time than it has been legal.

      Grow a brain.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      I am guessing you have "Jesus" at your breakfast table as you ask for His opinion on every issue concerning You !

      February 24, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      You have no clue what you are talking about. Anytime a gestation is interrupted before the fetus is viable outside of the womb is simply the "owner" of the womb's choice. It is not yours, not the sperm donor or anyone else. It is HER choice. She knows she is not ready to raise a child and do a good job, so she wants to stop the possibility. It is only a potential as it may never come to term. How many women do we see who kill their kids because they cannot deal with the responsibility ? too many. They should have had abortions.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • zing

      So crc has Jesus on speed dial? Can you share the #, or is it the same # we dial to reach those evangelical nutjobs that steal Americans' money on those Sunday TV begging specials?

      February 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Peggy

    All I know is that my coffee maker just broke and there is some kind of government conspiracy that caused it.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. crystalangel336

    While I am 100% against politicians trying to make laws on my body, and I enjoyed the thought of this proposal about vasectomies, keep in mind one thing. We are paying these idiots money, good money, retirement, healthcare and more while they do this chit. It says in this article that less then 1/5 get passed. Stop trying to control our every single move. Stop coming up with 1,000's of stupid bills, so that you can sit there and pretend you are working on our dime. I am so sick of of these people. Sorry had to vent a little.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • MiGrant

      Vent! Crystal, vent! Somebody needs to call these wastes fo space to the carpet! And that's us voters! So, keeping venting please! 100 agree with you!

      February 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. zing

    yes ms. velcro is all too familliar with the strap-on lingo.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. clarke

    What is the difference between birth control pills and a vasecetomy? They are both forms of birth control. What is good for the goose is good for gander, don't you think.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • MiGrant

      That's not her argument: she's equating abortion with vasectomy, and THAT IS different!

      February 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ben

    Vasectomy equals hysrectomy, neither equals abortion.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • ae2awmailey

      Actually, a vasectomy is analogous to a tubal ligation, not a hysterectomy. Both procedures can be reversed, unlike a hysterectomy, which is permanent.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ae2awmailey

    The people on here saying that there is no comparison between abortion and vasectomies are absolutely correct. There is NO comparison. So, why do I see these male Republicans presuming to debate female contraception and abortion?

    February 24, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • ae2awmailey

      *No comparison to being pregnant, that is.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jatovi

    Let's propose a anti-condom bill. Why is there no outrage over this issue. The GOP are all up in arms over contraception right? Aren't condoms a form of contraception? Aren't condoms a "license to do bad"? Where's Rick, Newt, Mitt, Ron, or any of the GOP? Oh, I get it. If women used condoms they'd be upset. Just another reason I couldn't vote GOP/ Tea Party.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • ryanWI

      Does your health insurance cover condoms? Mine certainly doesn't. I have to buy them at the drugstore. That's the issue. Nobody is opposed to women being able to get birth control pills. What we are opposed to is forcing anyone to hand them out for free.

      February 24, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. scranton

    yasmin, at least get a college degree.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • M Houston

      College degrees haven't prevented Santorum, Romney, Gingrich, Paul and a whole host of catholic priests or Evangelical fundamentalist Bible thumpers from making foolish or irrelevant comments OR from attempting to pass moronic legislation (and some of them ALSO on the public dime)...GOOD for you, Yasmin!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tom Smith

    Bottom line...these politicians should be fired for wasting time and money on stupid bills. Getting even using your power??? What are you? 10 years old. If you are, you should resign.

    February 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • MiGrant

      You said much better than I did! 100% agreed!

      February 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
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