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Joe Biden beat Paul Ryan to disrupt Republican momentum in an episode of the Generation Game

By showing greater emotional intensity than Obama did last week, and shifting the focus on to foreign policy and George W Bush, the Democrats won last night

Fabulous! Joe Biden for President! Vote Biden! Oh. Wait a second…

For Democrats, the task last night was to disrupt the substantial momentum of the Republican campaign following Mitt Romney’s trouncing of Barack Obama in the first debate. For Republicans, the task was to continue or even accelerate that momentum.

Overall, Democrats have more reason to be happy than Republicans. Joe Biden was assertive, funny, absolutely on top of his brief, and just condescending enough. He was also – crucially, from a Democrat point of view – able to manoeuvre the debate towards foreign policy, and an area where the Democrats are safe because of the rightly perceived success of Obama’s first-term foreign policy. The more this election is about foreign policy, and the less it is about economics, the better the Democrats’ chances. And yet it should also be granted that Biden’s best moments came when he took apart Ryan’s budget proposals – supposedly the area where the young pretender is strongest.

Age Concern

To a greater extent than previously noticed in this campaign, last night also highlighted a weird generation game. Leading the tickets are Obama (51) and Romney (65). Second on the tickets are Joe Biden (69) and Paul Ryan (42). In other words, the Democrat ticket is “Youth and Experience”, whereas the Republican ticket is “Experience and Youth”.

The latter makes more sense: it was hard, four years ago, for Democrats to explain why they needed a Vice-President 18 years older than Obama if not to make up for his lack of experience. Even now, it is curious and unflattering how much Obama depends on a man who could be his father to make up for his own failings.

The President fought the last election as an agent of change and the Cool Kid. Last night, Biden showed him how to play the Comeback Kid. That’s a bit weird coming from a guy who entered the Senate in 1973.

What Biden showed last was an emotional intensity that Obama conspicuously lacked last week. He looked and sounded convincingly like someone absolutely on the side of America’s striving middle-class, and the jobless and elderly and poor who have taken such a battering over the past four years.

Blame Bush

He also learned the crucial lesson from Bill Clinton’s magnificent speech at the Democrat convention: voters think in cycles of five or perhaps ten years, so remind them how grim and awful was the last Republican administration. Learn from Reagan’s Morning in America. Just as Jimmy Carter was the biggest weapon in Reagan’s bid for re-election, so the most under-used thing in Obama’s armoury this time round is George W Bush.

A better night for Democrats than Republicans, then, if only because it avoided a repeat of last week’s disaster.