To extend the comparison to its logical conclusion: All of “big-government liberalism” ultimately rests on the same type of cargo-cult thinking. Most Americans have only the vaguest notion of how the federal government functions; even I, somewhat of a political junkie, am overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the government, and can’t even begin to keep track of its innumerable expenditures and entitlement programs. But at least I understand where the federal government’s seemingly infinite supply of money comes from — taxes paid by me and people like me. To paraphrase Obama: “We are the gold mine that’s paying for everything.” Yet even that pedestrian “detail” seems lost on many Americans, especially those who view the government as a magical candy machine which dispenses free benefits. People who pay little or no taxes voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers, while the taxpaying middle class as a group gave him the fewest votes of any income group. This supports the stereotype that Obama voters, in general, are the recipients of entitlement payments and government largesse, while the Tea Party/anti-Obama activists are the ones footing the bill for that largesse. We, the politically engaged class that writes and reads political Web sites, are keenly aware of the whole struggle over the federal budget. But a distressingly large proportion of Americans don’t know and don’t care about what goes on behind the scenes: to the extent that they think about the government, they see it as a source of free money — or cargo, as it were.
What happened between mid-2008 and the end of 2010 is that the number of Americans who realized that the cargo cult of Barack Obama was a hoax finally passed the tipping point.