Well, Joe Biden has managed to unite the left and the right in this country.

Both sides agree that he did something idiotic.

In 1986, when the Delaware senator was gearing up for his first presidential bid, I wrote in The Post: "Given his penchant for soul-searching monologues and rambling speeches, it could fairly be said that Biden is trying to talk his way into the White House."

And that's how it's always been with Biden. He is capable of great flights of eloquence--and of stepping on a sensitive part of his anatomy. He has a restless intelligence and a self-indulgence that allows him to go on at great length. I could see him holding four-hour news conferences as president, which would probably allow time for three or four questions.

Biden is well aware of this trait and has been trying to rein himself in. So what happens? He declares for president yesterday and is promptly torpedoed by his own words in a New York Observer{vbar}http://www.observer.com/20070205/20070205_Jason_Horowitz_pageone_newsstory1.html interview.

Biden on why Hillary Clinton can't win: "Everyone in the world knows her. Her husband has used every single legitimate tool in his behalf to lock people in, shut people down. Legitimate. And she can't break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100 percent of the Democrats know you? They've looked at you for the last three years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?"

Okay, pretty aggressive.

Biden on John Edwards calling for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000 troops from Iraq: "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about."

Hey, he could make this campaign interesting.

Biden on Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Gulp.

Did he really use those adjectives? And how damaging is this?

Biden gets pounded in the blogosphere after Drudge goes huge with it. Here's Kos{vbar}http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/1/31/11112/2465:

"Really, if we live in a just world, this will be the end of Joe Biden's political career . . . It's clear his career has dragged on one election cycle too many."

Time's Jay Carney{vbar}http://time-blog.com/swampland/2007/01/re_oh_dear.html:

"It will depend on how Biden explains himself, how Obama reacts and whether there's an uproar. Suddenly being a second-tier candidate is a good thing for Biden."

Power Line's John Hinderaker{vbar}http://powerlineblog.com/archives/016656.php:

"Hmmm. Not an auspicious start to Biden's campaign . . . It's hard to see any explanation Biden can give that will prevent this from being anything but a severe embarrassment."

Brian Williams{vbar}http://dailynightly.msnbc.com/2007/01/federal_offense.html#below-fold gauges the fallout: "There is serious speculation, being advanced by serious people, that he (his campaign for president) will not be able to survive the comments published in this morning's New York Observer. That outcome, of course, would make his the shortest presidential campaign in history."

Whaddya know? Biden does a conference call with reporters, with the Politico's Ben Smith{vbar}http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0107/Biden_I_Meant_Clean_as_a_Whistle_.html listening in: "I really regret that some have taken totally out of context my use of the word 'clean.' " Biden said he'd called Obama, who told him, "Joe you don't have to explain anything to me -- I know exactly what you meant."

Some MSM coverage, starting with the Chicago Tribune{vbar}http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0702010205feb01,1,2450042.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed: "Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, a foreign policy expert and Iraq war critic with a propensity for long-winded oratory, entered the Democratic race for president Wednesday with a clumsy comment about Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois that was taken by some to be racially insensitive."

New York Times{vbar}http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/01/us/politics/01biden.html?hp&ex=1170306000&en=8a93ebc2c2455c7a&ei=5094&partner=homepage: "The remark, published Wednesday in The New York Observer, left Mr. Biden's campaign struggling to survive its first hours and injected race more directly into the presidential contest. The day ended, appropriately enough for the way politics is practiced now, with Mr. Biden explaining himself to Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show.' "

Obama initially brushed it off, "but later in the day, with Mr. Biden coming under fire from some black leaders, Mr. Obama issued a statement that approached a condemnation. 'I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate,' he said. 'African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.' "

USA Today{vbar}http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-01-31-biden-2008_x.htm: "The dustup over Biden's remarks came the same day President Bush also described Obama as 'articulate' in an interview on Fox News.

Asked what he thinks troops would feel about a President Obama, Bush said: 'He's an attractive guy. He's articulate. I've been impressed with him when I've seen him in person, but he's got a long way to go to be president.' "

The folks who aren't buzzing about Biden/Obama are still buzzing about Hillary's joke about her experience with "evil" and "bad" men. Jonah Goldberg{vbar}http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZjQzMjM3MWQ3YmMyZGRlMzBlZjFkYTU5Zjk3OWE1OGM=isn't amused by her explanation:

"When asked whether the joke was about Bill, she said, 'Oh, come on. Well, I don't think anybody in there thought that.' But of course everyone thought that. Liberal pundits, spinners, and the audience members who talked to the press afterward all said that the unspoken punch line was Bill Clinton. The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes writes: 'Several Democrats afterward said they interpreted her delivery as a charmingly funny allusion to her husband's past marital misbehavior.'

"If Hillary doesn't see that, she's a very bad politician indeed. And, truth be told, I think she is a bad politician in the sense that she is incapable of connecting with audiences the way, for example, her husband can. The most powerful emotional impression she makes on most people isn't compassion or warmth or sympathy -- the hallmarks of a politician who's good in a room -- but discipline. She comes across as stiffer than Trent Lott's hair and more tightly wound than a rubber-band ball. Even sympathetic reporters write about her as if her id were a tiny little general in an immense war room plotting every move on maps sprawled out in front of her. Clinton's inadvertent joke wasn't part of her plan, even though the audience in her town halls and Internet chat sessions is pre-selected. And when forced to explain something off-script, she wobbles like a tightrope walker who missed a step.

"The amazing thing is that she gets away with this. Although everyone understands that Clinton takes positions on issues based on political calculation, it somehow doesn't count against her. A recent episode of Saturday Night Live captured the essence of Clinton nicely. 'I think most Democrats know me,' the fake Clinton told a fake Chris Matthews. 'They understand that my support for the war was always insincere. Of course, knowing what we know now, that you could vote against the war and still be elected president, I would never have pretended to support it.' "

I guess she's losing the SNL Primary.

The New Republic's Christopher Orr{vbar}http://www.tnr.com/blog/theplank?pid=76047 has a novel suggestion:

"This is just the kind of self-deprecating reminder of what she went through that helps humanize Hillary. Lest we forget, she's never been more popular than she was during the Lewinsky scandal and its aftermath. Indeed, it was widespread sympathy for her predicament that helped land her in the Senate in the first place.

"Which got me thinking: If Hillary is truly as Machiavellian as people imagine, and if the most popular thing she's ever done is have her husband get caught cheating on her, why not, you know, try it again? It'd be easy enough to engineer, although the timing and details would of course be important. A scenario in which Bill was caught in flagranto at an office Christmas party would, I imagine, have the twin advantages of breaking just in time for primary season and seeming particularly squalid. But I'd trust Hillary's campaign staff to work out the particulars.

"It's diabolical enough to make Dick Morris weep: Bill gets his nookie, Hillary gets her Woman Wronged bounce in time for New Hampshire, the young lady in question gets her own line of handbags . . . "

And the press reaches new heights of pleasure.

Here's something{vbar}http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/01/world/europe/01italy.html?hp&ex=1170306000&en=95486317c1e9adcc&ei=5094&partner=homepage Hillary might try:

" 'Dear Editor,' began a letter published Wednesday on the front page of La Repubblica, the newspaper that Silvio Berlusconi hates most. The scalding letter demanded an apology from Mr. Berlusconi for flirting publicly -- and it was signed by his wife."

And wait till you see what the ex-prime minister wrote in response.

Dick Cheney may have chastised Wolf Blitzer for asking the question, but Mary Cheney feels it's okay{vbar}http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/us/31cnd-cheney.html?hp&ex=1170306000&en=2f756d3153c4c19d&ei=5094&partner=homepage to address in public: " 'When Heather and I decided to have a baby, I knew it wasn't going to be the most popular decision,' Ms. Cheney said, referring to her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe. She then gestured to her middle -- any bulge disguised by a boxy jacket -- and asserted: 'This is a baby. This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate, on either side of a political issue. It is my child.' "

She criticized Blitzer too. But my question: Didn't Bush and Cheney use the same-sex marriage amendment to make a "political statement"?

At the Libby trial, it was Matt Cooper's turn:

"A former Time magazine reporter said Wednesday that it was President Bush's political advisor, Karl Rove, who first revealed to him that the wife of an administration critic worked for the CIA," says the Los Angeles Times{vbar}http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-libby1feb01,1,85160.story?coll=la-headlines-politics.

"The testimony by Matthew Cooper could help former Vice Presidential aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, who is on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice."

And just so you don't miss the gossip, there was this Scooter-Mary Matalin chat:

"As they talked by phone, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby scribbled down a series of Machiavellian suggestions from Cheney's then-communications guru, Mary Matalin: What to do about MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews and his steady barrage of Iraq war criticism? 'Call Tim,' Libby wrote, referring to Tim Russert of NBC News. 'He hates Chris.'"

Slate's John Dickerson{vbar}http://www.slate.com/id/2158157/entry/2158651/ says the cross-examination of Judith Miller--which continued yesterday, when she said she had discussed Valerie Plame with other sources besides Libby but couldn't remember who--may have backfired:

"Scooter Libby's lawyer William Jeffress was so frustrated with Judy Miller I thought he'd yell liar, liar, pants on fire. The former New York Times reporter had presented detailed accounts of three conversations with Libby during the prosecution's questioning, but during the defense cross examination, she seemed incapable of remembering much of anything. Jeffress kept pressing her. 'Do you remember my question?' he snapped at one point. Miller sighed. She apparently didn't.

"There are nine women on the jury. Scooter Libby's defense team better hope they don't have strong sisterhood feelings because Jeffress' thinly veiled condescension was enough to create sympathy for Miller. In Washington, that's like creating cold fusion. Miller's reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been renounced by her former paper. Her role in the Libby affair led to a very public spat that ended in her departure. But most of the members of the jury don't know all of that."

The president says it was a State of the Union slip-up, but Greg Sargent{vbar}http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/horsesmouth/2007/01/post_24.php reviews all the times that Bush has referred to the "Democrat Party."

How far can a beat reporter go in discussing the Iraq war? "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran{vbar}http://blogs.abcnews.com/terrymoran/2007/01/index.html ponders the issue:

"The New York Times has publicly reprimanded reporter Michael Gordon--a great journalist, author of the definitive Iraq War book Cobra II--for saying in a television interview that he thinks the US can still win the war.

"Gordon was on The Charlie Rose Show on January 8th and was asked if he believed 'victory was within our grasp.' Included in Gordon's answer was this statement:

"'So I think, you know, as a purely personal view, I think it's worth it [sic] one last effort for sure to try to get this right, because my personal view is we've never really tried to win. We've simply been managing our way to defeat. And I think that if it's done right, I think that there is the chance to accomplish something.'

"The Times' public editor, Byron Calame, brought readers' complaints about what Gordon had said to the paper's editors. Philip Taubman, the paper's Washington Bureau Chief, decided Gordon had violated a basic principle, writing in an e-mail Calame made public:

"'I would agree with you that he stepped over the line on the 'Charlie Rose' show. I have discussed the appearances with Michael and I am satisfied that the comments on the Rose show were an aberration. They were a poorly worded shorthand for some analytical points about the military and political situation in Baghdad that Michael has made in the newspaper in a more nuanced and unopinionated way. He agrees his comments on the show went too far.'

"All this raises some interesting questions for those of us in the media, and for the public we serve. Should reporters want the US to win the war in Iraq? Whatever their personal judgment, should reporters say whether or not they believe the US can win the war? What role, if any, should patriotism play in the reporting of the United States at war?"

And how far should presidential candidates go in tackling the war? Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum{vbar}http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2007_01/010652.php is growing impatient:

"Obama's description of his legislation very carefully avoids any mention of funding other than to explicitly say that it 'does not affect the funding for our troops in Iraq.' (Italics mine.) Without that, he must know that his legislation is almost certainly futile.

"I realize that in one sense this is all meaningless since George Bush will veto legislation of any kind that mandates an end to the war, whether it includes a funding cutoff or not. Still, I can't help but get the feeling that this bill is carefully crafted to sound a lot more ag[g]ressive than it really is. If Obama is serious about getting us out of Iraq, why not include the one thing that everyone agrees is a bulletproof way of accomplishing his goal?

"As you may recall, I had the same complaint about his healthcare speech last week. I hope this isn't a trend. Walter Mondale managed to crush Gary Hart pretty thoroughly in 1984 with his slogan 'Where's the Beef,' and I wonder if Obama is opening himself up to the same kind of attack this year."

How many people remember that Where's the Beef was a takeoff on a Wendy's ad, deriding its hamburger rivals?