"No people is wholly civilized where a distinction is drawn between stealing an office and stealing a purse."- Theodore Roosevelt
I'll add that no people can be wholly civilized if they don't even notice offices getting stolen - I like to think that most folks would notice somebody stealing their purse.
I've had some interesting experiences in my life. I've done some things that made me feel wide awake and really alive. But possibly my most profound political endeavor was becoming party to the Ohio recount after the presidential election of 2004.
My Green Party running mate David Cobb and I didn't recount Ohio because we thought maybe they would find enough votes to prove we had won. (Though it's pretty awe inspiring to lose by 58 million votes to a man who shot his friend in the face.) No, we recounted Ohio because voter tampering took place and ordinary people had their most precious democratic possession stolen from them: their right to vote.
In some ways we were unlikely suspects to be launching a recount. But the law in Ohio refuses the offended individuals the right to intercede for themselves. The old black woman who needed to use the bathroom and was denied re-entry to the voter line couldn't contest the election because as "just a voter" she didn't have standing. The folks who voted with ballots that Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said were printed on the wrong weight paper lacked standing too. Only a presidential team could cry "foul" and fight for their rights.
Why us? Well, John Kerry lacked - well - everything needed to stand up against democracy's undoing.
I don't know and I don't care why the 2004 Democratic challenger wouldn't fight for thousands of Ohio voters - and consequently the country. Sure, I have my opinions. But eventually, during our recount, he finally admitted his purse had been stolen.
It wasn't the first stolen purse in the history of U.S. politics and unfortunately it's not the last.
Let's start first with past stolen elections. Florida in 2000 is the one that everyone mentions when discussing electoral corruption. But I'm not in the mood to argue, so let's pick one that we can all agree on - and not the Nixon-Kennedy election with allegations of dead relatives voting in Chicago because we would still end up fighting.
Let's pick one we can all agree involved plotting, stolen opportunity, violence and pure unadulterated usurpation of power. And we can prove it was stolen. One minute this man stood on victory's pathway and the next he lay sprawled on the floor with a bullet in his head. It was 1968 and Robert Kennedy and the American people lost a weighty purse.
Is it hubris or denial or both that makes Americans believe that elections can't be stolen in this country?
Maybe it's a question of semantics. So I'll proffer a definition.
See a stolen election is a limiting of options. In the case of 2004 Ohio, fraud brought our options from two choices down to one.
But that election was stolen long before then. I mean really, just how much did you like those two choices?
Did you like John McCain until that false rumor began about his adopted child of color being the result of an illicit affair? Did you like Howard Dean until that yelling thing happened and the networks showed it over and over again?
No bullet needed for Dean, no bloody end for McCain; why really assassinate them when character assassination does just fine?
Well this week I stood in Maine's Hall of Flags with a candidate whose days are numbered. Not because they deserve to be, but because he just won't get a fair chance. He's under-funded and marginalized and ridiculed and at times worse - treated like he doesn't exist. The election stealers won't stop until Ron Paul has gone the way of Dennis Kucinich and all the "opposition" voices are silenced.
And don't even get me started about the third party choices that you will never get.
No, by Election Day you'll substantively have only two choices. And the election will go to a friend of drug companies, insurance companies, imperialism and war.
Oh look! Your purse is missing too.