Just hours after the army of bloggers left Las Vegas, the beleaguered United Auto Workers opened its convention in the same town. But this week there were no lavish bashes, no big-ticket politicians clamoring to speak to a union whose membership fell from 1.5 million in 1979 to less than 600,000 last year. The UAW’s convention’s tone was somber–in sharp contrast to the triumphalist mood of the Daily Kos convention.

I say, all power to the participatory politics that the Internet is bringing to our anemic democracy. But I wish a few bloggers had stayed behind to report on how the UAW’s members are faring and feeling. I wish a few of them had used their laptop power to hold politicians’ feet to the fire for failing to think big about how to rebuild an economy that would provide opportunity to America’s ravaged working poor and middle class. And at a moment when the mainstream media, the rightful target of so many bloggers, devotes fewer column inches to labor coverage than at any time in modern history (and has shown the door to almost all its labor reporters), what better role for crusading bloggers to fill?

But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger’s searing words about this administration’s grotesque assault on the working class, and his appeals to politicians to address the structural changes required to counter a predatory global economy, were given almost no attention in the blogosphere and too little in the mainstream press.

To his credit, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne was one of the few who paid attention–using the UAW’s crisis to lay out what he believes is “the greatest challenge facing the American center-left.” How do progressives, he asked, “keep their core promise to expand opportunities for the middle class and the poor”? How do we repair a shredded social contract to provide dignity and work for those who seek it?

How do we rebuild or “renegotiate” the bargain in which corporate power is effectively countered “by a large public sector and a unionized industrial sector that provided social insurance, education, pensions and health care”? For now, as Dionne argues, because people are clearly seeking a “better economic bargain, the words ‘New Deal’ never sounded more up to date.” But, as if he could hear those pollsters and strategists, ones I’ve heard before cautioning politicians about using “New Deal” because it seems so retro, E. J. rightly replies: “… if the marketing specialists insist, A New and Improved Deal would do just fine.”

Whatever you want to call it, if you’re seeking provocative, creative and humane ideas about how to build a new social contract, read William Greider’s article in The Nation’s current issue. What Greider likes to call his “not-ready-for-primetime” ideas should attract the attention of all political leaders who care about addressing the deterioration of work and wages, and who believe that our country’s greatness lies in nurturing people and society first, ahead of corporations and capital.