Okay, so there’s this strong wave of anger manifesting itself in these ‘tea parties,’ including now a big rally in Washington. The sentiment is, as best I can understand it, that they mistrust government, and they feel betrayed by our elected officials. In the words of one individual quoted in the NY Times, “I want Congress to be afraid. Like everyone else here, I want them to know that we’re watching what they’re doing. And they do work for us.”

He’s right, and he’s wrong. He’s right that they do work for us. But he’s wrong that they’re betraying that responsibility. Other than perhaps Arlen Specter, each and every member of Congress, and certainly the president, is fulfilling the mandates upon which he or she was elected. They are not violating them. The American people sent Obama, and Capitol-ful of Democrats, to Washington to reform healthcare, to end Bush-era economic and foreign policies we had ceased to believe in, to lead us to a different energy future, to address climate change. Were they now to undertake a different agenda, something contrary to what they campaigned on, I think somebody might point a finger at them and shout, “You lie!”

So, the problem, my tea party friends, is not betrayal on the part of our elected officials. The problem is that so many people have a different view than yours, that a different breed of elected officials has been sent to Washington. I understand that you are angry and frustrated. I understand that you simply don’t like the prevailing winds. The quoted gentlemen has the right idea of recourse when he says, “I want Congress to be afraid” — assuming that he means by that, afraid of what will happen at the next elections. But then why are you directing your anger at the elected officials? Why are you not reaching out to me, and tens of millions of others like me — the vast centrist swath of the electorate who decide elections and who support responsible, pragmatic government action to address the issues of the day?

The tea party types need to ponder a very serious political reality. By retreating further and further into the margins, and by taking the Palins and DeMints and Bachmanns and Wilsons with them, they are leaving the policy-making to the liberal Democrats. We have two camps in Washington now. Reid, Pelosi, Waxman, Baucus, etc., who are making the laws; and a group of shrill Republicans who are making political theater. The tea party movement is having the brutally ironic effect of shifting policy radically leftward, by making it more politically lucrative to leave the negotiating table than to remain there as the voice of sensible conservative thought.

At any rate, if you count yourself among those who sympathize with the tea party sentiments, just remember: I vote. Millions like me vote. Elections have consequences. If you lose, don’t try to change MY candidates. Get back to work to elect your own.

I have been having a very thoughtful exchange with another blogger about these tea parties, and what they represent. It finally dawned on me why I am vaguely mistrustful of the tea party movement, even though I support its basic message. I suspect I differ from most tea-party folk in terms of our understanding of what the ramifications of such a movement will mean.

Much anger is directed at frivolous, wasteful and excessive spending. By all means, let’s light the torches and demand an end to all that. But, once all of that has been taken away — all the Congressional perks, all the earmarks, all the unambiguously pork projects — what do we have? An annual deficit of maybe $700 billion instead of $1 trillion.

People have to be ready for the cold, hard reality that this means large-scale reductions in government services. This may mean that Social Security and Medicare start at 68, not 65. And that grandma has to live in the spare room instead of the nursing home, due to Medicaid cuts. And that I have to fork over $700 for a laptop for my highschooler, because the schools don’t have enough computers. And that expressways become tollways because of cuts in federal transportation funding. And that food plants are inspected less often. And that national parks are closed from November through March. And that we withdraw precipitously from Iraq and Afghanistan. And that the cost to ride Amtrak or mail a letter goes up by 50%.

The list is endless, and more importantly, it isn’t painless. In fact, it will be extremely painful.

Government may be broken, but WE broke it. Candidates told us we could have all these services, and pay less in taxes, too! Glory be! Sign me up!!! We got exactly what we asked for.

There was no betrayal, except of ourselves, by ourselves. We are not the victims, we are the perpetrators. And the pain of restoring order will be our pain, not theirs. I pray that people get that.