The thing that surprised me most? It was not a slash and burn attack on McCain or even Bush. Can you believe he didn't even mention Dick Cheney? The attack dog didn't get personal and didn't lay out the strongest case against the Bush administration's heir. While the McCain Republicans have launched brutal, personal and callow attacks on Obama's integrity, sincerity, and patriotism, the Obama Democrats have treated McCain with respect and deference - more respect and deference than his nasty, petty, little campaign deserves.

They are taking a risk. They are living their message, even as McCain is trashing his own reputation with the asinine, adolescent Weekly Standard brattishness that is now his trademark. Biden's attempt to describe how awful the Bush administration has been was fine, but not exhaustive and not as biting as it could have been (hampered by a few funny verbal misfires).

Here, for example, is a simple question I'm frustrated has not yet been asked in prime time. Why has the evil mastermind of 9/11 not been captured in seven years?

For all their bombast and brutality and bombs, the Bush-Cheney team have failed in the most basic responsibility asked of them after 9/11. They haven't found, they haven't killed and they haven't destroyed Bin Laden and the evil he represents. They have allowed him to regroup and threaten free people again - even as they have trashed America's honor and decency in the dark cells and torture chambers they borrowed from Saddam Hussein and the Soviet Union. I don't know why Biden cannot remind us of that. To my mind, it was a missed opportunity. Like the past seven years.

But it was also, I suspect, a successful speech. "Joey" Biden, his wife and story and mom and background and son in the service aims directly at the white working and middle class Democrats Obama needs. It's hard not to feel affection for this scrappy old guy - especially if you're a Catholic. (This was a very culturally Catholic speech, especially at the beginning, and Biden will speak to people who might be leery of this young African-American.) It was also focused on middle class economic anxiety and spoke about it in intimate ways that voters will immediately understand.

It seems to me that the Democrats have decided to fight this campaign centrally on the economy. And Biden is the path to those most concerned about it: the Reagan Democrats, alienated by Bush-Cheney, but still unsure about Obama. If they come over, Obama wins. Big.

(Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty.)