Arianna Huffington is a fierce proponent of progressive values, runs one of the most dynamic Web sites on earth and has been named to Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people.

But when she speaks of the middle-class men and women thrown out of jobs by America’s great recession, she cannot help but tear up and display her emotional commitment to helping rescue them from an economic calamity they did not create.

Citizens' role in addressing challenges

“We must speak of collective sacrifice,” Huffington told an audience of 100 on Monday during her talk on citizenship at Suffolk University’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service. “We must put people back to work. We must touch each other’s hearts. Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

Huffington and Alan Khazei, co-founder of the City Year public service program, discussed “The Role of Citizens in Addressing the Nation’s Key Challenges.”

Huffington is touring the country discussing her jarring new book, Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, and Khazei is the author of Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out the Best in America. The two friends and activists noted how well their books mesh.

"Big citizens" needed

Khazei encouraged audience members to become “big citizens,” which he said is as simple as starting a local effort to help those struck low by joblessness or foreclosure.

Huffington said: “We need to reward those companies and businesses that create jobs and opportunities,” and she likened the odds of achieving a secure middle-class life in the America of 2010 to “winning the lottery.”

“Homer Simpson’s existence is unthinkable now,” she said of the cartoon icon who, as she notes in her book, lives comfortably in suburbia with his big family on the income from a single job.

Wall St. bailout criticized

And she had a few harsh words for the Obama administration, chiding it for stating again and again that “unemployment is a lagging indicator” of economic recovery, even as the rate kept climbing. She noted how establishment Washington moved heaven and earth to bail out Wall Street in 2008. “We’ve never had that same urgency about our crumbling middle class,” she said.

Huffington agreed that her book sounds a grim note, but she urged people to absorb the message of the final chapters, where she offers an optimistic remedy – “Hope 2.0” -- for an economic system that “stopped making things and started making things up.”

"Brownie points for heaven"

She spoke of a group of laid-off mortgage and banking specialists who are helping people stay in their homes, despite foreclosure, because their loans were so unethically mismanaged by Wall Street that no one can find the deeds to the properties.

Such people, she said, are not just finding a fulfilling use for their time but are earning “brownie points for heaven.”