The criminalization of politics

Posted: Mar 19, 2007 12:05 AM
The criminalization of politics

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.

What I did not expect was a concerted effort to destroy me legally, financially, and personally. I have now spent millions of dollars in lawyers’ fees to answer the lies of the left. I have taken hours away from doing the nation’s business to work through the laborious process of responding to legal charges that my liberal opponents knew were untrue and frivolous when they first filed them. I have watched my family suffer under the burden of not just my political misfortunes—an expected reality in a politician’s family—but of the threat of material destruction, imprisonment, and ruin. This should not be what happens to someone who has defended his political ideals, aggressively, yes, but honorably. A congressman serves his nation by serving his values with passion, and the nation only suffers when partisanship is punished with personal destruction.

I use this word “punished” because it is the best description of what is really happening. I did not serve in Congress for twenty-two years because I simply stumbled into the role or captured it in some illegal way. I was elected by people who thought I was the best representative of their values. Once elected I fought hard for conservative principles and, in time, my fellow conservatives and I won major victories. Remember, these were victories for the very principles we were sent to Congress to serve.

But the liberals could not win on the floor or at the ballot box, so they tried to win by hurting us personally. Like good communists, when they cannot defeat their enemies politically they seek to destroy them personally, and this is what they did to us. All of this is punishment for holding values different from theirs. All of this is the price they want to visit on us simply for being conservative.

I began paying this price shortly after the Republican revolution got underway, when it became clear to the Democrats that our success in 1994 with voters was no fluke. Democrat leadership became intent on driving me from politics. For the next decade I would endure constant harassment in the press, ethics charges, lawsuits, and, in short, a concerted effort to destroy me politically and personally. All of this was part of a coordinated effort led by Patrick Kennedy, then head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who had determined that since he could not defeat me on the issues, he would try to defeat me with lawsuits and ethics charges. This is why, following two earlier sets of ethics charges, Kennedy filed a RICO suit against me.

Now RICO—Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organization—laws are about preventing criminal conspiracies. Kennedy’s DCCC sued me for conspiring to defeat Democrats. This sounds like a horrible joke, but it wasn’t. Being found guilty of a RICO suit can mean huge fines, and even jail time. I ended up spending over five hundred thousand dollars defending myself before the case was finally dropped. It was, without question, one of the most vicious lawsuits in American history. Yet it achieved its purpose. It allowed Kennedy’s allies in the liberal press to report that Tom DeLay was being charged with corruption. This was the intent all along: to smear me with false accusations before the watching public. And it was only the beginning of my troubles.

Within a few years, Nancy Pelosi became the House minority leader, and she took the lead in the Democrats’ smear campaign. Her arena of her dirty work was the House floor. It became routine for her to move a “privileged motion,” which is a motion a minority leader is permitted to offer, and which allows her then to speak on her motion before the House and the media. What follows is usually a vote either to table the motion or to act on it. Pelosi knew that none of her motions would be acted upon by a Republican-dominated House, but all she really wanted was the chance to make speeches attacking me and other Republicans before the members and, of course, the press. Many was the time she would move a privileged motion and make a speech filled with wild accusations, and I would later find liberal newspapers reporting only that Tom DeLay’s corruption had been the topic of House debate.

While Pelosi used her privileges as the House minority leader to smear me, other congressmen used their special order time to carry Pelosi’s lies to the American people. Remember that this special order time was mandated by a House rule that let any member take the floor after the House had finished its business and speak for an hour on any subject he chose. This is the tactic that Newt Gingrich used so effectively. The presence of the C-SPAN cameras even after the House had finished its business had allowed Newt to speak to the nation, and he wisely chose to teach the nation about the elements of a conservative worldview. In the case of the Democrats, men like Jim McDermott of Washington state used this special order time to attack me and other Republican leaders. This meant that before a national audience I was being held aloft as the author of the culture of corruption in the nation’s capital.

What emerged was the perfect storm of personal destruction. Between Pelosi and her puppets doing their worst on the floor of Congress, the liberal press echoing their lies, and a host of supposedly independent organizations like CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), Common Cause, and Democracy 21, among others, filing suits and pressing ethics charges, I soon found myself in a sea of litigation and public misrepresentation.

Now laying aside for a moment that these tactics were unethical, un-American, and, in some cases, immoral, the hypocrisy of the assault against me is that some who questioned my ethics have had their own questioned by Repubicans. Rahm Emanuel, who followed Patrick Kennedy as head of the DCCC, not only made millions of dollars in an inexplicably short period of time, but is also accused of using public employees in his campaign. Nancy Pelosi took a trip to Puerto Rico that has come under suspicion because it was paid for by lobbyists. A federal court held that Jim McDermott was actually found guilty of a crime that violated a federal law by obstructing and giving the tape of an interpreted private conversation among members of the Republican leadership to the New York Times. The case is currently on appeal. Then there is William Jefferson, the congressman from Louisiana, who is being investigated for taking a bribe and was caught by the FBI with ninety thousand dollars in his freezer. Clearly the Democrats have some house cleaning to do, but they seem to prefer the tactics of personal destruction to living up to their own rhetoric about ethics.

The strength behind of all the efforts against me, of course, was the power of the big lie. I have thought long and hard about how to respond to the liberals’ barrage. Of course I must answer in court, because this is required by our legal system. That is, if I ever get to court: Clearly my opponents want to file lawsuits against me for the sake of smearing my name, but they never seem to be willing to take those suits into court, where they will have to prove their facts. Beyond legalities, though, I have tried to decide between rising above my opponents and refusing to validate their charges by even mentioning them or answering them directly and shaming them with the truth. I’ve decided the latter, but the reasons may come as a surprise. I am not doing this just to save my reputation. That will happen with time anyway, because the truth is on my side. Nor am I doing this because I have some driving need to answer each lie in detail.

No, I want to shame these lies with the truth because I believe this may help to expose the tactics that are keeping good people from public office and punishing those who serve well. I want to take the risk of repeating lies about me so I can demonstrate how these lies are designed to bludgeon me for simply having the wrong political views. Perhaps then I can help to end our current culture of political bloodletting before it permanently sullies our nation. We cannot continue to allow liberals to function like communists and destroy anyone who gets in their way.

Lie Number 1: “Tom DeLay took trips illegally paid for by corporations and lobbyists, which he rewarded with political favors.”

It does not bother me that people think I’m corrupt; that can be disproven when I get to court. What bothers me is that people think I’m stupid. Would I, the most investigated man in America, really be so foolish as to take an illegal, high-profile trip and give my enemies a weapon to hurt me with? No, I would not, nor have I ever accepted any illegal travel.

Let’s start at the beginning, though. I believe in the private sector. I love the free market, and I think that business is not an evil in our nation but one of the great engines of betterment for human beings. On the other hand, I believe that government ought to be small, and as light a burden as possible on the backs of the people. Therefore, when I travel, as a congressman must, I would prefer that private money fund the trip if possible, rather than the taxpayers.

Many politicians feel differently. They love traveling on the public dime and take CODEL—short for “Congressional Delegation”—trips by the dozens. I disagree. I would rather a private foundation fund my travel if at all possible, and so I’ve taken very few CODELs in my twenty-two years in Congress. In fact, I haven’t traveled very much at all. In one ten-year period while I was in Congress I only traveled out of the country twice.

The press and their liberal lords have worked hard to paint my travel as some sinister conspiracy. For them words like “corporate,” “lobbyist,” and “private” are vile. For example, in 2000 I took a trip to Scotland and England at the invitation of conservative politicians in those countries. They wanted to learn how we had won such a great victory in 1994, and how we had accomplished the Contract with America. It was a wonderful experience. We flew on a private plane and held miniseminars with our fellow conservatives overseas, and I had the privilege of meeting with Margaret Thatcher, one of my heroes. I also got to play a few rounds of golf, which I try to do as often as I can when I travel. On this trip I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at St. Andrews, the legendary birthplace of golf and a mecca for all true players. The trip was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research and was completely aboveboard.

When I returned home, you would have thought I had joined Al Qaeda. The press talked about the trip like it was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government, and the House Ethics Committee was asked to investigate. Of course, there was nothing unethical about it at all. I urged the Ethics Committee to address the charges, but they never did. Still, because Americans have been trained by the press to conclude that a congressman holding a cigar and a golf club while on a privately funded trip must be plotting evil, the aura of impropriety hovers over this trip and a number of others I have made.

And what about those political favors? Well, they didn’t exist. But let me take this whole issue a bit further. A congressman only accepts trips to study an industry or a cause if he is already somewhat committed in the first place. If I’m interested in helping the nursing home industry or airplane manufacturers or construction workers, I’ll travel to study their issues only because I already lean toward serving them in some way. So if I return to the floor of the House and vote for legislation that aids construction workers, this doesn’t mean I’ve done anything illegal or in any way contrary to the best interests of the nation. In fact, I’ve served the country by giving an informed vote.

One more thing: Because liberals and the press are influenced by socialism’s hatred of the private sector, they speak of business people and corporations like they are the evil empire. Not only is this a silly lie that defies history and reason, the vital truth is that a congressman is sworn to represent the people in private industry just as surely as he is public school teachers and policemen. Not only should we be thankful for what the private sector has accomplished in this country, we should start recognizing that those who work in that sector have a right to political representation also. A close look at their spending on political lobbying will reveal that they actually spend less than labor unions do to achieve their political goals.

So yes, I took a trip to Scotland. Yes, I played golf. Yes, it was privately funded. And yes, it was both legal and informative. If I had the opportunity, I would do it again.