At the end of The Wizard of Oz, the great and powerful wizard is revealed to be a little man behind a curtain, a powerless “humbug,” as he timidly confesses to the Scarecrow.

Unfortunately, the special interests pulling the strings behind our political curtain are not so harmless. Big Labor is among the most prominent of these string pullers.

Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute has noted that, as public-sector unions have surpassed their private-sector counterparts in both number and influence in recent years, union culture has become more socially and fiscally liberal, and thus supportive of correspondingly liberal policies and politicians.

In 2008, unions gave $400 million to President Obama and fellow liberals, hoping to elect politicians who would pass their most cherished legislative desire – Card Check, which would abolish the secret ballot in union elections and make it easier for unions to swell their ranks and coffers…at the expense of worker choice and privacy (to say nothing of the fiscal health of companies and governments, as lavish union pension and benefit plans have pushed many to the brink of insolvency). In 2008, then-AFL-CIO president John Sweeney admitted of Card Check, "It is the most important issue that we have."

The Democratic Congress failed to enact Card Check before the November 2010 conservative tide thinned their ranks. But never fear: An Obama appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, Craig Becker, has ominously suggested that Card Check may not need the imprimatur of legislation.

As the editors of the Wall Street Journal noted, “As a top lawyer for the Service Employees International Union, Mr. Becker had suggested that the NLRB has the legal authority to impose Card Check…without the approval of Congress.”

The NLRB has also threatened to sue Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah over state constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to a secret ballot in union elections, claiming such amendments are in conflict with federal law.

Special interests can not only push priorities and legislation harmful to our liberty and economy, they also frequently stand in the way of reforms that could benefit millions.

Take tort reform. The costs of medical malpractice take a tremendous toll on our economy and our health care system.

Jackpot Justice, an analysis of medical tort costs by the Pacific Research Institute, concludes that in one year, “$124 billion in health care expenditures was initially and primarily driven by medical-liability concerns.” In addition, the “total annual wealth loss to U.S. stockholders from tort lawsuits is $684 billion.”

And a study by the Massachusetts Medical Society warns that the “defensive medicine” doctors are often forced to practice out of fear of lawsuits “is unsafe for patients and reduces access to care.” Indeed, “over 48% of Massachusetts physicians surveyed in 2007 reported that they currently alter or limit their day-to-day practice activities because of the fear of being sued.”

If tort reform could save lives and money, why was it not included in the final health bill? Simple – trial lawyers make huge fortunes litigating malpractice suits, and therefore have strong incentive to see the present tort system to continue.

And they contribute huge sums to politicians like Obama who can be counted on to spike it, which is exactly what happened on Obamacare. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Howard Dean, former Democratic National Committee chairman and a physician himself, said during the peak of the health care fight in 2009:

"The reason that tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everyone else they were taking on. And that is the plain and simple truth."

Was there ever any doubt that tort reform would never be a part of the Obama remake of our health system? His Secretary of Health and Human Services, the bureaucrat perhaps most empowered by the new health law, is none other than Kathleen Sebelius, one-time director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association from 1978 to 1986.

The lesson is clear: Ignore the man behind the curtain at our peril.

Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and a contributor to Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010).