The AP Fact-Checks Senator Roberts over Porcupine Lovemaking

by Jonah Goldberg

The Associated Press is doing some vital fact-checking here:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The struggle over the proposed Republican health care overhaul in the Senate has covered a lot of territory, even veering into the mating habits of porcupines.

It’s a prickly situation, trying to replace the Obama-era law with something palatable to enough lawmakers, and some of what is being said in the debate just isn’t right.

A sampling of recent statements and how they stack up with the facts:

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-Kan., reaching for an analogy to illustrate how difficult it is to negotiate health care: “Once in Glacier National Park I saw two porcupines making love. I’m assuming they produced smaller porcupines. They produced something. It has to be done carefully. That’s what we’re doing now.”

THE FACTS: He is correct, it’s tricky, but unlike lawmakers, porcupines have their mission figured out.

Porcupine spines are an intimidating mechanism to protect the animals from predators. But when it comes time to mate, they have the ability to let down their defenses, said Duke University biologist Stuart Pimm. Courtship rituals can be aggressive but when the animals have negotiated the art of the deal, the females relax and reposition their quills.

It’s not entirely different from people, Pimm said. “We humans are quite capable of arming ourselves with the most ferocious weaponry but I don’t take my broadaxe to bed with me.”

I’m torn about this. On the one hand, this is kind of funny and, truth be told, I wish more Washington clichés got this treatment.

How many times have you heard Al Gore or some other politician say the Chinese symbol for crisis also means opportunity? It doesn’t.

Similarly, as I wrote about at length in my last book, it’s not true that a frog will sit in a pot and slowly boil to death if you turn the heat up slowly. They jump out because, you know, the water gets too hot.

And of course, the claim that it takes a village to raise a child, used by Hillary Clinton and others to justify a vast bureaucratized welfare state gets nothing but appreciative nods. That alleged African proverb has its roots, in P. J. O’Rourke’s famous telling, in the “ancient African kingdom of Hallmarkcardia.”

On the other hand, come on. The porcupine-lovemaking line is just a joke. Moreover, there’s nothing inherent to the low-rent parable that can be used to justify vast, sweeping, statist enterprises. But, hey, it’s a slow news day.

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