A TALE OF TWO JOHNS…. It’s been about four decades since we last saw two successive, failed presidential candidates serve in the Senate at the same time. We are, however, seeing it right now — John Kerry lost in 2004, John McCain lost in 2008, and both remain in the chamber.

It’s worth taking a moment to note the different paths the two have followed since their unsuccessful national campaigns. Kerry recently wrapped up tireless efforts on New START ratification, which were ultimately a success. McCain recently wrapped up tireless efforts to keep gay servicemen and women in the closet, which were an ignominious failure.

Kay at Balloon Juice did a nice job capturing the bigger picture. (thanks to D.D. for the reminder)

After John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, he returned to the Senate and simply did his job there, and he’s continued to do his job there.

Kerry lost, big, on climate change this year and he still rallied and led on START, rather than booking time on cable shows to bitch.

Kerry didn’t subject the country to two years of bitter griping, temper tantrums and petulant demands. Kerry didn’t pursue purely personal vendettas against whole groups of voters who (allegedly) “betrayed” him. Kerry didn’t flip-flop on each and every policy position he has ever held. He voted and votes the same way he always did. John McCain, remarkably, considering what we were told about him, has done all those awful things since his loss in 2008.

In the 2004 Presidential election, political media and pundits portrayed John Kerry as an elitist, foppish, slightly silly “flip-flopper” who lacked character and core convictions. The same political media and pundits lovingly and carefully nurtured the fairy tale that John McCain is a rock-ribbed, Country First, straight-shooter. Events since tell a radically different story.

I’ve long considered Kerry one of American politics’ most underrated figures — the guy’s an exceptional senator and a credible expert on a wide variety of issues. I’ve also long considered McCain one of American politics’ most overrated figures — the guy’s a petulant, hotheaded clown, who lacks a working understanding of public policy at any level. One is the subject of establishment mockery; the other is a media darling who practically lives on television. Regrettably, the rewards go to the wrong senator.

But the last week helped drive home where the two Johns stand — last weekend, one lost his composure and did significant damage to what’s left of his legacy, while on Wednesday, the other saw the culmination of his work on a major international treaty on nuclear arms.

It’s quite a pair of bookends.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.