Criticizing elected officials is a grand national tradition.

It promotes accountability, relieves frustration and unites disparate groups in mutual indignation.

And it's fun.

But while figuratively dumping on politicians serves positive purposes, literally dumping garbage in a mayor's office takes the feedback process too far. It's an apt metaphor for how we Americans increasingly dump all of our problems on politicians.

Portsmouth (Ohio) Mayor David Malone got a heavy dose of that trend nine days ago when Janice Shanks took two bags of her household garbage into his office.

OK, so she was justifiably aggravated when her garbage piled up without collection for four days as the city -- without public notice -- shifted its pick-up schedule to avoid paying sanitation workers overtime on Labor Day.

Shanks told the Portsmouth Daily Times: "It was the holiday weekend and all of our grandkids were there and our children, so I had more than normal."

More on that trashy story later.

However, before joining in on another angry-masses chorus of "Throw the Bums Out," shouldn't we -- at some point in our frenzied wrath against politicians of all parties at all levels -- ponder the understandably dwindling field of folks willing to subject themselves to such abuse?

Elected officials aren't the only ones responsible for how broke we are, both collectively and individually.

We consistently insist that politicians find the resources not only to defend the nation, police the streets, put out fires, educate the young and not so young and build the roads but to take care of us from cradle to grave.

Democrats tend to pander to that unrealistic notion.

We consistently insist that politicians come up with the ever-soaring sums required to cover those escalating tabs without raising taxes -- and without adding to our rapidly rising, record national debt. Many of us even want them to do all that while cutting taxes.

Republicans tend to pander to that unrealistic notion.

These clashing demands have put us on a slippery slope toward fiscal ruin at all levels of government.

That grim, bottom-line reality is hitting home harder than ever. As reported in Thursday's Post and Courier, South Carolina's pension fund for state and local government workers faces a funding gap of more than $17 billion.

As reported in this week's Moultrie News, due to collateral damage from that gap, Mount Pleasant is moving toward hard decisions on benefit reductions for and/or "contribution" hikes from town workers.

And keep in mind that Mount Pleasant's generally better off than many municipalities throughout the state.

Meanwhile, our editorial staff has already started interviewing candidates running in November's municipal elections in our area.

As usual, nearly all of them, despite their differences on assorted issues, seem sincerely committed to serving the public well for relatively scant financial reward.

As usual, the winners will get conflicting orders by a peeved public.

Now for what once was unusual but has become standard tough-call fare for the elected:

These extended tough times have created a shortage of not just jobs and tax revenue but collective angst. Combine that with the growing ranks of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, and the runaway Nanny State train is at growing risk of jumping the bottom-line track.

Medicare and Social Security are in intensifying peril, on a colossal scale.

Sure, lots of people have paid lots of money into those federal entitlement behemoths. But there are no longer enough people paying enough money into them.

Unemployment rates stuck in painfully high gear make this lousy situation worse.

What's next?

Choose your poison: Lower benefits, higher taxes -- or both.

Now, as the Pretenders enduringly put it in 1982's ominously titled "My City Was Gone," let's go "back to Ohio":

Did Portsmouth Mayor Malone summon his law enforcers when Mrs. Shanks deposited that garbage in his office?

No. He apologized to her and said the city's failure to give sufficient public notice wouldn't be repeated. He even told her to leave her garbage right there in his office.

Good for the mayor for coming clean on that blunder -- and for relieving Mrs. Shanks of her burden.

But bad for us all when we pile too much blame on politicians for our own over-the-top expectations of what government should -- and can -- do for us.

So get real.

And confine dumping on politicians to the figurative, not the literal, lest we run short of suckers willing to carry the elected-official load.

For as the old saying goes:

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.