You know, if I had been recently and frequently compared to Joe McCarthy, I might want to tone down my act a bit for a while. That does not seem to have occurred to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Maybe he was just getting warmed up for his big closing speech at CPAC on Saturday, but he baited a senior colleague, Diane Feinstein of California, into an explosion in the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on gun legislation:

On Thursday, during a committee hearing in the U.S. Senate on gun control legislation, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) engaged in a heated exchange over the constitutionality of her support for stricter gun control laws. In posing a question regarding the constitutionality of new gun laws, Cruz lectured Feinstein about the language in the Bill of Rights. Feinstein did not appreciate the lecture and informed Cruz that she was “not a sixth grader.”

I’m reminded of an anecdote from the early 1960s (reported, as I recall, in Robert Sherrill’s classic, Gothic Politics in the Deep South) in which then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy was testifying in the Senate on civil rights, and Strom Thurmond handed him a comic book explaining the U.S. Constitution. “It’s simple; anyone can understand it,” ol’ Strom said to a bewildered RFK.

It’s not clear whether Cruz is determined to thrill conservatives with bully-boy tactics, or is just as humorless as Thurmond. But he’s sure making a mark–a black one–in the Senate with considerable speed.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.