12/27/2011 11:52 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2012

In Search of a Low Maintenance Newt

Aquatic newts are remarkably amusing and very easy to maintain. They are relatively active for an ectotherm, long-lived, very personable, eagerly accept pelleted foods, and can be kept in something as simple as a critter keeper with a few inches of dechlorinated water and a place to hide. And like frogs if they lose a leg they can grow one back. For many, they are the ideal pet. --

Sounds pretty low-maintenance. And then we come to a Newt that is running for president. What a difference some phylogenetics can make. That Newt can be witty but remarkably unamusing and not easy to restrain much less maintain. However like a frog, although he can lose a leg to stand on, he seems to keep coming back.

What is Newt Gingrich's* problem?

As LA Times columnist Robin Abcarian pointed out in: "Newt Gingrich may be too arrogant for Iowa," we need leaders who are both "of the people" and "above the people." Newt seems to have no trouble with the latter, but appears to fail miserably at the former.

Why is it that people need leaders to be "of them?"

We need leaders to be "of us" because we no longer trust what they say. Even in the case of President Obama who we trust to be telling us what he believes, we no longer feel we can rely on him to get it done.

When people are "of us" they get to feel the way we do. And often "feeling is believing." In the film Charlie Wilson's War, the main character played by Tom Hanks starts out "self-absorbed" and very narcissistic, but then by going to Afghanistan during its war with the Soviet Union he comes to feel their angst and in so doing is transformed.

Feeling for someone is not the same as feeling as them. Feeling personally what someone else is feeling, especially their fear and angst, transforms you. The reason is that you can't genuinely feel the hurt of someone else and then hurt them some more.

Gingrich to a greater degree and all the candidates to a lesser degree would do well to experience first hand what our lives are like. What if all members of Congress had to pay money out of their pockets for all their health care needs for them and their families for six months? What if members of Congress stayed with their families in a homeless shelter for a week? What if members of Congress and their families lived in their car for 24 hours and had to go to gas station to wash themselves in the morning? What if all members of Congress had to pay back all the donations to their campaigns as if they were a college loan?

That would not only close their credibility gap, but it might give us the beginning incentive to start believing and trusting what they say.

We have gone from an optimistic country to a pessimistic one, from trusting to skeptical, from believing to cynical. That could change, of course, if the economy turned around and Americans got back to work and people stopped being fearful of what will become of them in the next year, and if something could be done to narrow the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots."

But it could also change if those people who represent us, spent enough time in our shoes to become "of us."

* A final tip to Gingrich if you are to become more "of us." Replace your hubris with humility and learn the distinction between being proud of your exceptional accomplishments that bettered the lot of others and being prideful of what you've done to cause you to think you're such an exceptional human being.