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Pro or con, readers decry lack of leadership

It was hard to tell who was angrier Monday: Readers who were terrified by the failure of the  $700 billion Wall Street bailout or those horrified that the massive economic life-saver came within 23 votes of passage.'s Kari Huus reports.
Image: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Frank (D-MA) speaks
From right to left, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., take questions at a news conference after the House rejected a $700 billion Wall Street bailout.Jim Young / Reuters
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It was difficult to tell who howled louder Monday when a $700 billion bailout package for Wall Street crumbled — those who were terrified by the failure of the package or those horrified that the massive economic life-saver came within 23 votes of passage.

Readers who wrote to’s Gut Check America as the drama unfolded—more than 3,000 on Monday alone — agreed on one thing: The vote clearly demonstrated a lack of leadership in the Capitol. Some heaped blame on Wall Street players and politicians, saying they were  complicit in the economic mess, while others derided Congress alone, saying that lawmakers are too spineless to pass the taxpayer-funded bailout in the run-up to elections.

“This vote is indicative of a Congress with an absolute lack of courage and leadership,” wrote Mark O’Donnell of East Syracuse, N.Y. “Sometimes following public opinion is not the right thing to do. As distasteful as this is, I believe we MUST take action to free up our credit markets.”

“Let's get real, if a bailout doesn't happen everyone is going to lose!” said Mary Girardi of Arden N.C.  “The whole system is crumbling around us and the Congress can't take the leadership to do anything, afraid the people at home will get mad. … Excuse my language, but does no one have the balls to get us out of this mess?”

Some readers saw the divided House of Representatives in purely partisan terms.

Robert Bush, of Charlotte, N.C. roundly blamed the Republicans: “The same Republican BS that got us in this mess has now succeeded in stopping the only hope of avoiding another Great Depression,” he said. ”They all need to be thrown out of office. … I hope they all lost their shirts. Unfortunately, most of the rest of (already) have.”

But Jon Camp, of Yulee, Fla., was relieved the bailout failed. “Thank-god this did not pass,” he wrote. He saw congressional Democrats as loading up the bill with their own pet causes. “The ship is sinking and here are the Democrats trying to throw more water in the boat!”

To be sure, members of Congress of all stripes were getting an earful — or inbox full. If you clicked on "write your representative" on the House of Representatives Web site on Tuesday, you were likely to be greeted by a message stating that the site was "experiencing an extraordinarily high amount of email traffic" and to try again later.

Many readers expressed faith that the market itself would work through the current troubles, shunning the notion of government intervention.

“I'm happy to see that the House voted against the bailout plan,” wrote Michelle Ma, of Placentia, Calif. “That gives me relief that at least SOMEONE is thinking like me! There are winners and losers in every market. Five years ago when housing prices were sky high, I was one of those "losers" priced out of the market. When they came down, I acted responsibly and bought my first home and right now am even buying a second home! I'm the winner now!”

Few readers who wrote to Gut Check America believe the debate has come to an end, and many offered their own ideas about how the mess should be cleaned up.

“Come up with a new plan but only after allowing the most egregious banks, executives and citizens that created this mess to fail before bailing out the economy,” wrote Barb Rangel from Minneapolis.

Forget Wall Street high fliers, suggested Ron Roy of Loma Linda, Calif. “The $700 billion should be put into a government-owned and -operated banking system which can provide reliable and sustainable loans to small and medium business,” he suggested. ”This would allow the government to use its authority to make laws to create a transparent/accountable system free from the unfettered and rampant greed of the unregulated private sector.”

Another common theme was the call for a punitive element to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

“Every CEO and CFO of the failed banks and megacorporations should be fined or taxed HEAVILY for causing this failure,” said Joan Barber of Kirkland, Wash. “They should pay back into the system the money their greed has gained for them. They need to redistribute their wealth and invest in the working, average American citizens.”

But others said this is no time to expend energy being angry that would be better focused on fixing the problem.

“We are on the brink of a financial abyss, and all everyone can do is complain about the rich on Wall Street and how no one is bailing us out while we are buried in debt,” said Mike Miner of Honolulu. “The angry folks on Main Street got their wish. And now? “Better hang on... The bottomless pit of the economic and credit crisis awaits us all.”