Former vice-president Dick Cheney has taken his torture tour all over the place in the past few weeks, waging an ongoing campaign to defend what the Bush administration called "enhanced interrogation."
The more playful television pundits have reflected on the irony of Cheney, who spent so much of his tenure secreted in either a real-life bunker or in the fortified cocoon of the White House, now aggressively courting the limelight.
After all, to the extent to which former presidents and ex-vice-presidents maintain public postures during the early days of their successors' administration, those profiles are by tradition low-key. (President Barack Obama, remember, has served only a little more than 100 days.)
This sense of modesty is rooted in the idea that when the public speaks, as it does in every election, those who are replaced hold their tongues for a seemly period of time — in deference less to the new officials than to the voters.
But Cheney has little respect for tradition. That is for sissies, as is the United States Constitution.
As President George W. Bush's number-one thug, Cheney — aided and abetted by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld — helped orchestrate the war in Iraq and labored mightily to subvert the Bill of Rights.
He who lied about weapons of mass destruction now wants the nation to take him at his word: torture was not only necessary; it worked.
Maybe Cheney should be required to file an environmental-impact statement before every interview or speech. All things considered, it is a modest proposal.
We are not suggesting publicly water-boarding Cheney, or that he be required to stand naked for an indeterminate period of time with his hands shackled above his head. That would be wrong.
Instead, we'd like to guarantee Cheney's constitutional right to free speech while at the same time safeguarding the public from the poisonous aftereffect of his spew.
It is not a perfect solution, but democracy is a tricky business.
The United States, like all governments, has a history of unsavory and reprehensible conduct. But until the Bush administration, the executive branch — often with the assent of Congress and even the contrivance of the judiciary — sought to keep its dirty deeds (foreign coups, assassination, and, yes, torture) in the shadows.
Hypocritical? Without a doubt. So ingrained in the national security state was this dirty dealing that the president was often kept in the dark. That policy even had an official name: "plausible deniability."
If the shield of secrecy that surrounded the nation's noxious deeds was ever penetrated, it was vital, paramount, to shield the White House.
None of this is very comfortable stuff to consider. But it at least suggests the idea that there were some forms of official conduct that were thought too illegal, too shameful to recognize.
The Bush-Cheney co-presidency was in this regard truly without shame, let alone a sense of decency. It was defined first by a stolen election. And its illegitimacy was further amplified by the lies about Iraq. These crimes at least were so big as to be almost abstract.
Not so torture, which by its very nature, along with rape, is an intimate act of very personal violence.
Normal human beings, even politicians, recoil at the idea. But Cheney is not a normal politician. He tries to pass himself off as a conservative. And yet true conservatives are rooted in a sense of community, of tradition, of ideals, and of standards. To knowingly violate these ideals should produce a sense of shame.
Cheney is no conservative. He is an unreconstructed authoritarian, a proto fascist. His ilk is hard to find in elected life in the United States. But if one seeks a democratically elected authoritarian, look no further than to Western Europe, where Silvio Berlusconi serves as Italy's prime minister.
Another unreconstructed authoritarian, Berlusconi was in 2008 elected to his third non-consecutive term in the post. He has set about undermining the national courts and the parliament in much the same way as Bush and Cheney sought to undermine those institutions in this country.
Some European commentators liken Berlusconi to a sort of Mussolini lite. Others even fear that Berlusconi could evolve into the first fascist to take power since the death of Spain's Francisco Franco.
Anyone who thinks a similar scenario can't unfold here should keep history in mind. We came uncomfortably close with Bush and Cheney. And while Cheney is unelectable, he's still at large.
Vote for Passoni
When democratic and independent voters go to the polls in a special primary election next week to choose a successor to former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi, they should cast their vote for Susan Passoni. A dedicated progressive, Passoni has twice run admirable and imaginative campaigns for the Boston City Council, and would bring a much needed breath of fresh air to the stagnant corridors of the State House. A vote for Passoni is not only a vote for new talent; it is a vote for change.