Less than a month into the Obama presidency, Biden forthrightly, if unwisely, declared that the new administration’s economic plan had a “30 percent chance” of failure. Asked about this at a press conference, Obama smiled thinly and answered, “You know, I don’t remember what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly.” Obama’s staffers, who were lined up along the back wall at the presser, snickered along with the press.

Biden felt insulted. Through staffers, Obama apologized, protesting that he had meant no disrespect. But at one of their regularly scheduled weekly lunches, Biden directly raised the incident with the president. The veep said he was trying to be more disciplined about his own remarks, but he asked that in return the president refrain from making fun (and require his staff to do likewise). He made the point that even the impression that the president was dissing him was not only bad for Biden, but bad for the administration. The conversation cleared the air, according to White House aides who did not want to be identified discussing a private -conversation…

Biden, it should be noted, has not always showed the most clear-eyed judgment. In 1990 he voted against American involvement in the first Gulf war, which turned out to be a relatively low-cost success, whereas he voted for the invasion of Iraq, which turned into a near fiasco. He opposed the 2007 Iraq surge, which rescued the American effort from near defeat.