As I was sitting in my office Tuesday afternoon, contemplating the saga of state Sen. Daylin Leach, the friend to many in the Jewish community who stepped back from his congressional campaign in disgrace after a damaging news report citing multiple allegations of sexual harassment of female staffers, Eric Stoltz’s line in Pulp Fiction kept playing over in the back of mind: “No trial. No jury. Straight to execution.”
Indeed, the remarkable thing about the Leach scandal that broke over the weekend is how quick the state’s highest official, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, was to call for a member of his own party to resign. It was literally a matter of hours before the governor was effectively calling for the head of a reliably liberal legislator, one who up until that point had been the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan’s GOP-controlled 7th Congressional District seat.
Some, especially those in our community who have been helped by Leach’s efforts in Harrisburg or who have made common cause with him on reproductive and LGBT rights, medical marijuana and a host of other initiatives, might be tempted — especially when considering that the allegations against Leach, while troublesome, pale in comparison to those that have felled U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Alabama Republican Roy Moore — to think that Leach has been denied due process. I am not one of them.
To be clear, I believe that Leach has done a world of good for the Jewish community and for this great commonwealth of ours. I remember covering his first campaign for the state House of Representatives as a young reporter here at the Exponent. He was accessible in a way other politicians were not. He had charisma and guts. And judging by his stances on issues, he clearly had heart.
But the allegations against him, if true, do more than jeopardize that image. His defense of lewd comments that have apparently left women in his employ uncomfortable as products of nothing more than a “bawdy sense of humor” ring especially hollow, considering that his employees were not audience members, free to leave an offensive show at will. And holding up an intern for ridicule with the nickname “thong girl” — again, if true — evinces a far more sinister brand of off-color thinking: Such behavior, along with the back pat that goes too far south, at its worst dehumanizes the victim.
And that is what is so troubling about this case, as well as the many others like it in the political world. Even among the vociferous defenders of women, there seem to be those who apparently view women they know as mere body parts. Wolf’s brand of zero tolerance might be particularly harsh, but against the backdrop of the expanding #MeToo awareness in the world, dramatic action is exactly what is needed to rid our society and our halls of power of the smugness that comes with power, of the license that power breeds to treat human beings as anything less than human.
I truly hope that Leach recovers and accomplishes whatever soul searching he needs. Whether or not he should resign is ultimately a question for him and his family to answer. But if at the end of all this we are more cognizant about the rights of individuals to be free from being touched without their consent, then a derailed campaign is a harm our society should be willing to accept.
In the face of these revelations, as well as the headlines on Tuesday indicating a deep culture of sexual harassment and cover-up in Harrisburg, it would be easy to think that this is a uniquely masculine problem. I’m sorry to say that it’s not.
It cannot be denied that as a class, the women among us are disproportionately among the victimized, but that might actually be more the product of continuing to be a male-dominated society than of some innate predatory instinct among men. Is it the power itself that allows someone, of whatever gender, to regard subordinates as less-than-worthy, to treat them, implicitly as well as explicitly, as inhuman?
I’m inclined to believe that power has more of a role to play in this sorry chapter of our history than gender. It tends to breed the kind of inhumanity that fuels such a warped notion that poverty is a product more of choice than of circumstance, just as it allows an intern to be judged by her attire as opposed to her work.
If we really want to effect change, if we really want to improve lives, we must view each and every individual as possessing the same rights and dignity that we fight tooth and nail to protect. I am blessed to be the father of daughters as well as sons. What I try to teach them is the innate worth of every human being and the respect that worth demands. What our government needs is more people who think — and act — the same way.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at email@example.com.