The following is an except from the new book by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.
It was Winston Churchill who once said, “In war a man dies only once, but in politics many times.” No one who enters public office is surprised by this anymore. Political leadership has always been tantamount to painting a target on your back, and this is even more the case in our media-driven, “inside story”-addicted generation. Only a fool would step on the public stage today without expecting every detail of his life to be exposed, debated, and criticized. This is simply the price of leadership in our time.
There is something else happening today, though, that must come to an end if this country is going to have serious leaders at its helm. Today it is not enough to defeat a man politically. It is not even enough to vilify him publicly. You have to carpet bomb his life. You have to make sure that he leaves office disgraced, bankrupt, and heading for jail. You have to ruin him in every way, and then dance on his grave. This is what the political left in this country has brought us, and this is why many of the best leaders in our land refuse to take public office. They are willing to be scarred in political battle, but they are not willing to subject themselves to total destruction.
I remember when Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of labor, was acquitted of corruption charges in a court of law after a prolonged trial by media. Stepping to the microphone on the day of his victory, he said, “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” These were tragic words that warned of what a man might suffer for serving his country. Today, though, a man should count himself fortunate if all he loses is his reputation. He could easily lose everything he owns, the legacy he intended to leave to his children. He could lose his right to work in his chosen profession, and might very likely end up serving time in jail. This is what the criminalization of politics and the politics of personal destruction have left us.
I served in the United States Congress for twenty-two years. I was passionate, aggressive, and partisan. I believed in my cause, and I hit hard. It came as no surprise to me then when my political opponents hit back. To open my morning paper and see lies written about me, or see myself painted in the ugliest terms, became a regular part of my life. It was harder to read vicious distortions about my family and friends, but even this I accepted as the price we all paid for the life of leadership I had chosen to pursue.
Tom DeLay is the former House Majority Leader, the second ranking leader in the United States House of Representatives, and co-author of No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.