While certainly interesting, the Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has been lacking one key element for lovers of the genre.

That would be Joe Biden.

When then-Sen. Biden was a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you could always count on him to talk the leg off a piano.

Indeed, Washington-area pianists who prized their Steinway would support the piano with trusses when it was the senator’s turn to speak. Why, it sometimes happened that pianos in the provinces would fall down in a heap of discordant notes if someone left the televised hearing on.

It is true that the Senate Judiciary Committee has many distinguished gasbags who would never dream of using one short word when 10 long ones were available. Their problem is that they think confirmation hearings are all about them.

But none of these eminent figures has the ability to seriously harm musical instruments or furniture like Biden did. Oh, I am not saying that a small crack wouldn’t appear in a nearby coffee table now and again, due to the sheer weight of pomposity heavy in the air, but this is kid’s stuff by Biden’s old standards.

Sic transit gloria mundi, an observer might say. As you know, this famous Latin expression means: "Thus passes away the glorious windbags."

Fortunately, all is not lost. Biden, the scourge of piano owners, is now playing a new if sometimes familiar tune as vice president of the United States, where he serves the commander in chief as the gaffe-maker in chief.

Of course, some will say — mostly idle types suffering from Talk Radio Overdose Syndrome — that President Obama makes his own gaffes. Yes, he does, but again not quite with the happy, spontaneous, to-heck-with-consequences style that Biden brings to the task. He’s no ordinary Joe when it comes to verbal blunders.

He couldn’t wait to start. Even on the campaign trail, he not so helpfully declared: "Mark my words. Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy."

Actually, those who marked these words will further mark that the president hasn’t had a Bay of Pigs moment six months into the job. But he has had a few Peninsula of Turkeys clarifications, thanks to his happy-go-lucky sidekick. Two recently came in just one week.

First, Biden said the administration had misread the economy. (No, Obama said later, "We had incomplete information.") Then Biden seemed to give the green light for Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if it wanted to. (Absolutely not, Obama said later).

This multiple placing of feet in mouth is not to me a sign of the vice president lacking intelligence. On the contrary, he shows signs of being smart — although not to the extent that he knows when to shut up already. Rather, it illustrates the law of averages in action — to wit, the more you talk, the greater the chance that you will say something stupid.

In my memory, nobody ever accused Vice President Dick Cheney of uttering a chance remark that came out wrong. In Cheney’s case, things came out wrong because they were coldly calculated remarks, or so many of us peasants concluded during that imperial era.

What an interesting contrast these two vice presidents make — Joe Biden, the garrulous clown prince in the public eye, and Dick Cheney, the plotting Rasputin in an undisclosed location.

Of course, once upon a time, vice presidents were minor figures in the scheme of things. The most exciting thing that happened in their lives was when the maid came by to give them an occasional dusting.

Cheney broke that mold as the first vice president to be co-president, even as he served in the shadows often unobserved, all the better to hide his pitchforks and stir his sulfur pot.

In my opinion, and remember I write a lot so I am bound to write something stupid, Joe Biden serves his president better than Dick Cheney served his. It may be heresy to say so, but George W. Bush was a better president when in his last year he appeared to heed his vice president’s counsel less.

Yes, better the silly gaffe than the sinister whisper. That is not to say that I think the amusingly talkative Joe Biden would ever make a good successor to Barack Obama. That would be throwing caution and pianos to the wind — and you don’t have to be a wise Latina woman to know so.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)

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