WASHINGTON -- John McCain said more in 10 minutes on the Senate floor than Ted Cruz did in 21 hours.
The Texas hothead had just completed his impressive bladderbuster, in which he discussed Ashton Kutcher and Toby Keith, did a Darth Vader impression, recited passages from Ayn Rand, read "Green Eggs and Ham" to his daughters at home, and spoke directly to his "sweetheart" via C-SPAN. At the end, he thanked dozens of people for their contributions to his marathon, as if rolling the credits on the heroic film of his life.
To the extent that Cruz's phony filibuster had a point (it didn't delay any vote), it was to shame his fellow Republicans into joining his crusade to shut down the government if Obamacare isn't defunded; those who disagreed, he said, were like "Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, 'Accept the Nazis.'"
Half an hour after Cruz yielded the floor -- "by force," he claimed, even though he had declined an offer from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to speak for an additional hour -- McCain delivered a few words that could have taught his young colleague something about honor.
"I resoundingly reject that allegation," the Arizona Republican said after reading Cruz's words aloud. "To allege that there are people today who are like those who, prior to World War II, didn't stand up and oppose the atrocities that were taking place in Europe, because I have an open and honest disagreement with the process ... is an inappropriate place for debate on the floor of the United States Senate."
McCain said Cruz's words belittled those who served in the war, including his father and grandfather. He then used the rest of his brief speech to defend his record in opposition to Obamacare, which shouldn't have been necessary: Nobody fought harder against the health care reforms.
The difference between the two men has nothing to do with who hates Obamacare more. Rather, their difference is one of character. McCain exhorts his colleagues to serve a cause greater than self, as he did as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Cruz acts as though the greatest cause is himself.
A casual observer of Cruz's antics could see what his colleagues had been grumbling about privately: that his time on the Senate floor was an exercise in self-promotion. Cruz must have been sensitive about this, for he felt the need to protest sometime around hour 17, "I would be perfectly happy if not a single story coming out of this ever mentioned my name."
This is the same man who spoke at great length about his father's cooking, an auto accident his wife had had and what views he might have in common with Kutcher. He demonstrated his regard for the institution by working in the phrase "give a flying flip" and kissed up to Rush Limbaugh by reading something written by the radio host's father.
In the end, Cruz joined the 99 other senators in voting to proceed with the debate on the legislation Cruz seeks to block. He said he would take his stand on the next vote, but that probably won't go much better for him -- in no small part because of colleagues' disdain for him, which McCain gave voice to after the freshman senator finished his bladderbuster.
McCain ridiculed the "extended oratory" and then recounted his own opposition to the legislation. "We fought as hard as we could in a fair and honest manner and we lost," he said. In 2012, he went on, "I campaigned all over America for two months, everywhere I could, and in every single campaign rally I said, 'And we have to repeal and replace Obamacare.' Well, the people spoke. .. That doesn't mean that we give up our efforts to try to replace and repair Obamacare. But it does mean that elections have consequences."
While McCain spoke of honoring the will of the electorate, Cruz was moving on to give Limbaugh an interview in which he said he was honoring the will of the broadcaster's listeners. "We're listening to the same bosses and trying to respond to the same people who are frustrated," Cruz said.
Maybe it was the fatigue, but Cruz made a surprisingly frank admission to Limbaugh. "In many ways," he said, "the central issue that we were trying to focus on in the filibuster was not the continuing resolution. It wasn't even Obamacare."
Right. It was narcissism.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.