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.