I'm sure the insurgent conservatives who call themselves the tea party, the folks who have rocked the Republican Partyand pushed the country's agenda to the right, are perfectly nice people. They are good to their grandkids and don't kick their dogs. And I think they genuinely care about their country.
What I wonder about, though, is whether they really understand who it is that they are supporting. They claim to represent the interest of average Americans -- the upright, hard-working men and women who pay the taxes, rear the next generation and struggle to make ends meet. But it looks to me as if the main beneficiaries of the tea party's efforts are the big money folks who live privileged lives built on screwing the little guy.
The biggest share of the funding that supports formal tea party organizations, such as FreedomWorks, comes from big corporations, not from mom and pop mailing in a modest check from their home in Kansas. Those fabulously rich industrialists, the Koch Brothers, are prime examples of the tea party's big financial backers.
Why do the corporations care about the tea party? Is it a pure patriotic impulse that drives them? Or does it have to do with their interest in avoiding government regulations, shielding their profits from taxation and diminishing the power of employees to push for better pay?
In the New York Times, Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College, detailed how Republican legislators, put into office by the efforts of tea party voters and corporate money, have waged war against workers' rights. In the 20 states with Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures, Mr. Robin says, lawmakers have been busy doing the bidding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, "passing legislation designed to enhance the position of employers at the expense of employees."
Mr. Robin cites a study of this pro-business lawmaking that affects unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, child labor, collective bargaining, sick days and meal breaks. Contrary to Republican claims that they are defending the liberty of individuals with the laws, the study showed a "cookie-cutter" pattern to the measures -- meaning all the changes were being fed to the legislators in these states by national pro-business lobbyists.
"Not only did (the legislation) consistently favor employers over workers, it also tilted toward big government over local government," Mr. Robin said. "And it often abridged the economic rights of individuals."
One of the most egregious examples of this phenomenon is the way Republican legislators have looked kindly on the practice of wage theft, wherein employers pocket service charges and redistribute tip money that rightly belongs to underpaid service workers.
In local, state and national elections, the tea party people have proudly become the foot soldiers of the GOP. They may think they are fighting against the excesses of big government, but the reality is they are mercenaries cheaply bought with corporate money to serve the selfish aims of big business.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.