All last year I was one of those huge Joe Biden fans, wondering why nobody took him seriously for the Democratic nomination. He's one of our smartest political assets, and, after a campaign rollout for which "embarrassing" would be a massive understatement, he seemed to keep his gaffes in check. But I discovered at yesterday's Petraeus/Crocker hearing, which he chaired, that verbal miscues are a zero-sum game for Biden. He managed snappy questioning, instead of the windiness he's famous for, but that conciseness seemed to yield an equal and opposite eruption of snarky condescension. Some zingers:

"We're delighted to have you back. I don't know how delighted you are to be back!"

(To Crocker) "Your physical stamina is greater than your good judgment." 

... and so forth. Badum-chik! One of his especially important lines of questioning, on whether Al Qaeda is more present in Afghanistan or in Iraq, was muddled by a sneering reference to the Good Lord calling on Ambassador Crocker. Poor Biden: Soon as he gets one presentation problem under control, out pops another.

--Eve Fairbanks