I asked about “let it burn” a few weeks ago and never heard any solid explanations for why grassroots righties had abandoned it in favor of the “defund” strategy, which aimed to stop ObamaCare before it started burning on October 1. The point of LIB, which got some traction on conservative blogs after the fiscal cliff deal last year, is that American voters will never learn their lessons about statism unless they’re forced to suffer the consequences of statist policies. It’s no use preaching conservatism to the public; the fact that liberal utopia can’t pay for itself won’t be absorbed until people experience it firsthand. It’s a sort of Cloward-Piven strategy in reverse, I’ve always thought: Instead of leftists bringing down the system to create political space for something even further left, the failure of the Democratic agenda in toto would finally clear the way for a conservative revival. The people want ObamaCare? Good, let them have it. Enjoy the higher premiums and industry death spiral, and as you do, remember that this was exclusively a Democratic production. This is what electing liberals gets you.

That’s LIB in a nutshell, which, like I say, wasn’t uncommon during and after the fiscal cliff but was mostly AWOL from the last two months of the ObamaCare debate. Here’s Ted Cruz, leader of the “defund” movement, offering one reason why: It’s cruel! People will suffer under LIB, by design. Even if the GOP ultimately gains from it politically, and even if they crave that political gain mainly because it’ll give them a chance to do good for the public policy-wise, a lot of pain will be felt by a lot of people before you reach that point. If you can stop O-Care before it starts (which Cruz never could, but we don’t need to rehash that), why not do it? That’s one big reason why some people backed LIB for the fiscal cliff but not for ObamaCare, I think — this was a chance, however slim, to halt a paradigm-shifting new bit of the liberal agenda before it even started. To let it take effect without objection in the dark hope that it would lead the public to temporary ruin was too hard for anyone who’s politically engaged to stomach. To put it differently, LIB was really a creature of despair after last November’s bitter defeat; the further we get from that election, the more hope righties have and the more willing they are to fight again. The other reason LIB is disfavored now is, as noted above, because it’s hard to know if the space created by a program’s failure will present an opportunity for the left or for the right. I see conservative commenters say every day that O-Care was designed to fail, to damage the private insurance industry to the point that a bigger government solution is needed to salvage the wreckage. If you embrace LIB and the result is more Democrats in Congress than Republicans, you may be waiting even longer than you thought for things to burn to your liking.

Here’s the question, though: How far does Cruz’s “prevent suffering” principle extend? After all, what he says here is exactly the sort of thing that Obama’s going to start saying if/when he comes to Congress asking for more money to repair Healthcare.gov. Imagine if HHS fixes the front end of the site, so that people can now easily register and enroll, but the back end of the site remains a complete mess, with insurance companies forced to try to process tens of thousands of garbled enrollments in December. People who signed up, especially those with preexisting conditions, will be eager to have their coverage take effect in January. “All we need is $100 million to fix the back end and get this coverage flowing,” O might say. What’s the compassionate play at that point? It’s almost unimaginable that the GOP would appropriate the money and acquiesce in funding Obama’s boondoggle; on the other hand, even if the money is withheld in the name of pressuring Obama to delay the law for awhile, there may be thousands of sick enrollees who’ve already made financial plans based on the expectation of coverage. (This, of course, was precisely the reason Cruz wanted the law stopped before it started. Once people become dependent on the program and its subsidies, it becomes very hard to undo.) So what’s the play then? Dig in, refuse the appropriation, and tell Obama to figure out a way to clean up his own mess, even if that means chaos for the sick and/or an industry death spiral? That would be, essentially, LIB in action. It’d be all Obama’s and the Democrats’ fault, but that doesn’t solve the problem of how to spare people a lot of suffering from their stupidity and incompetence.