Tom DeLay is feeling pretty fine on a sunny spring morning as he slides behind the wheel of a rented Cadillac and pulls away from his spacious Mediterranean-style home. Life is good for him here in a picturesque, prosperous place in suburban Houston called Sugar Land. He loves golf, and his handsome new house is nestled overlooking the beautiful 12th hole of the Sweetwater Country Club. He loves his wife of 34 years, Christine, and his daughter, Danielle, who is 29 and runs his political campaigns and lives only a few miles away. All this in Sugar Land, a place where most folks love Tom DeLay.
And why shouldn't DeLay feel pretty good? He is, after all, one of the most powerful politicians in America. By title, he is House majority whip, or the third-ranking House Republican, although inside the Capitol he is widely considered the most dominant force in Congress and the de facto leader of the right.
Life is especially good for him these days because the Republicans are finally in charge. DeLay has lived for this moment. He was in the minority for much of his 25-year political career and he is reveling in a dream come true of controlling not only the White House and the Congress, but the nation's agenda.
Yet DeLay wants more. Much more. As this day progresses, he tells me "I am still trying to drive the president," George W. Bush, toward a more conservative agenda. Toward a "permanent realignment" that will eternally discredit Democratic Party policies that DeLay considers "socialist." And, most important, toward building a more "God-centered" nation whose government will promote prayer and worship and the teaching of values.
"Our entire system is built on the Judeo-Christian ethic, but it fell apart when we started denying God," he says. "If you stand up today and acknowledge God, they will try to destroy you." His main mission, he says, is "to bring us back to the Constitution and to Absolute Truth that has been manipulated and destroyed by a liberal worldview."
DeLay is particularly joyful today because it is Sunday and the Cadillac is headed toward the First Baptist Church of Sugar Land, where he will pray to God, as he does every day. He and Christine will warmly greet many church friends. He will call out "Amen" repeatedly when Pastor Scott Rambo delivers a bloody, fervent sermon on the agonies of Jesus on the cross. DeLay will sing vigorously and pray quietly and then when the spirit moves him will kneel down at the altar, eyes closed in silent prayer, as he has so often in a life sometimes troubled by self-doubt and by the pain of alcoholism and dysfunction in his family.
After services, he and Christine will stay to attend an assembly for devoted members to pray for one another's illnesses and families. Then, the DeLays will participate in an hour-long Bible study class. Later that night, DeLay will return to church to teach his weekly adult class based on the writings of former Watergate figure Charles Colson, whose best-selling book How Now Shall We Live? asserts that only Christianity can truly explain the human condition and reform America's government and culture.
As we leave First Baptist, I ask DeLay about the many citizens who would be quite uncomfortable with the idea that he would mold the government in the belief that his religion -- fundamentalist Christianity -- had the only answers to society's problems.
DeLay looks me squarely in the eye and shakes his head sadly. "When faced with the truth, the truth hurts. It is human nature not to face that . . . People hate the messenger. That's why they killed Christ."
And so Tom DeLay makes it perfectly clear that his personal mission is to reshape the moral fabric of the nation, to remake it more in his likeness. But who, exactly, is Tom DeLay and what does he really believe America should look like?
Tom DeLay, 54, dates the start of his rebirth as a Christian to a traumatic insight in his freshman year in Congress, 1985, when he was caught up in the whirl of Washington. A Republican House colleague, Frank Wolf of Virginia, warned DeLay, then 38, about the personal stress of politics and urged him to watch a religious video about Christian fatherhood.
By his own estimate, DeLay was then drinking "8, 10, 12 martinis a night at receptions and fundraisers" and he was beginning to hurt. DeLay watched the video -- in which James Dobson, a child psychologist and noted Christian family guru, preached on the damage done by fathers too busy to love their children -- and "I started crying because I had missed my daughter's whole childhood," he says. "It was awful. My daughter in third grade asked her mother 'if somebody adopted Daddy,' because he was never around."