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Conservative Senate Win Is Another Victory for the Billionaire Bailout Society, and a Failure for Progressives

You can blame Obama for the Senate loss in Mass, but much of the failure also rests with the progressive community.

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What did progressives do? What are they doing now?

Not nearly enough. We put our faith in Obama and now are moaning about how he failed to take on Wall Street and the insurance giants. We concentrated on shaping the health care bill, but did little to shape the outrage against Wall Street and the anxiety about job loss.

The moment was missed. The American public truly became outraged at the Wall Street rip offs, but progressives failed to mobilize on Main Street. Instead the terrain was abdicated to the Tea Party, a loose collection of right wing populists who stirred up a potent brew of anti-Obama, anti-government resentments and anti-Wall Street anger.

In a matter of months the Tea Party has gained more popular appeal than either of the two parties. Unbelievably, it is becoming the party of Main Street.

It didn't have to be this way. Every significant crash creates openings for left and right populist reactions. This time however, the left version is dormant. Progressives have not generated a financial reform agenda or a vision for a revitalized economy that speaks to Main Street's anger. Nor has it produced the kind of mass pubic educational program that would be necessary to build a popular response. It certainly has not mobilized a new political party or movement to capture the millions of Americans who are fed up with what clearly appears to be the two parties of Wall Street.

Where is all that new progressive Internet organizing that was supposed reshape American politics? Where is that virtual mass movement that supposedly got Obama elected? Did we expect to tweet our way into reforming Wall Street?

It pains me to say this but progressives are about as far away from mobilizing a genuine movement of Main Street against Wall Street as Ms. Coakley is to understanding that Curt Shilling is not a Yankee.

Progressives are at a crossroads. We can either fight for the interests of Main Street against the billionaire bailout society, or we spend our dwindling energies on defending Obama and the Democrats against the populist revolt.

The Tea Party, however muddled and contradictory its proposals, have proved that Americans want to take on the billionaire bailout society. And it has showed us how quickly a new party formation can emerge. Unfortunately, the crisis also is revealing how tied progressive are to the Democratic establishment, and how meek our protests seem, just when our nation most needs our loudest voices and most spirited reforms.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).