Adam Serwer is a staff writer for The American Prospect, where he writes his own blog.
The most common trait of so-called "Tea Party" candidates is that they rail against government spending. The second most common trait of so-called "Tea Party" candidates is that they're the direct beneficiaries of government spending.
It's a trend that's so consistent it would have been rejected as a plot point on a 1970s sitcom because it's too much of a cliche. Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, who recently called Medicaid "welfare," nevertheless supports medicare payments to doctors because he's an ophthalmologist who thinks "physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living." New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a real estate millionaire who warned "the ruling class" about "the people's revolution" in his primary acceptance speech, secured $1.4 million in squandered government subsidies. Alaskan Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller has admitted to receiving farm subsidies but like a number of his colleagues running for office this year thinks the minimum wage is unconstitutional. Then, of course, there's Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who wants to privatize veteran's health care and is herself a recipient of health care from the federal government.
As Jonathan Chait writes in his review of the new book by the American Enterprise Institute's Arthur Brooks, while conservatives want to believe they're a part of some manichean struggle between the forces of capitalism and statism, conservatives and liberals are actually both seeking some degree of balance between market and state. The frame of a binary struggle may benefit conservatives politically as they try to portray themselves as the Luke Skywalker half of a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader, but as the Tea Party candidates on the dole show, they're not so much against government spending as they are against government spending on other people.
That's what this argument is really about -- not whether the government shapes the market, but who benefits. As these Tea Party candidates' opposition to everything from health-care coverage to the poor to a federal minimum wage standard shows, they're simply opposed to government intervention on behalf of those who might actually need it.
UPDATE 1:00 p.m: Brian Beutler reports that Miller's wife received unemployment benefits, despite Miller's contention that they're "not constitutionally authorized."