The Obama Debacle
Getting beyond these years.

John R. Lott Jr.


John R. Lott Jr. and Grover G. Norquist are the authors of Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future. Lott, a former colleague of the president’s at the University of Chicago Law School, answers some questions about the depth of the debacle and the way out from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: John, you say that when you were a faculty colleague of Barack Obama, he tagged you as “the gun guy” and announced that “I don’t believe people should be able to own guns.” That can’t possibly be true. Why should we believe you?

JOHN R. LOTT JR.: Well, don’t just take my word for his views on guns, look at the positions Obama took on guns during his time in Chicago. Obama supported a ban on handguns in 1996, and a ban on the sale of all semiautomatic guns in 1998 (a ban that would have encompassed the vast majority of guns sold in the U.S.). In 2004, he advocated banning gun sales within five miles of a school or park (essentially a ban on virtually all gun stores), and he has worked in other ways to support bans. He was on the board of directors for the Joyce Foundation, the largest private funder of research to ban gun ownership in the U.S.

When Jodi Kantor of the New York Times was writing an article on Obama’s time at the University of Chicago Law School, she heard that I might have some stories about Obama. She interviewed me during the summer of 2008, and I provided her with the different accounts that I provided in Debacle. But these examples were not included in her final article. Ms. Kantor said in an e-mail correspondence that “the Obama people denied that the conversation ever took place.” In a follow-up conversation with her, I kept asking what exactly they were denying. That I ever talked to Obama? That we ever talked about guns? That we knew each other at Chicago? But the only statement she ever received back from the Obama camp was that they “denied that the conversation ever took place.” It seems pretty clear that if the Obama people hadn’t denied the story, the New York Times would have run my quotes.

A key point of my stories was how different Obama was from academics in his unwillingness to discuss things with those who held opposing views. In my own case, Obama would just turn his back and walk away from conversations. Kantor noted that others had told her similar things. That was another reason my anecdotes were not crucial: “There was, frankly, a fair amount of other evidence, independent of the incident you told me about, that Sen. Obama did not engage much with conservatives/libertarians.”

LOPEZ: “Debacle” — isn’t that a wee bit of an exaggeration? 

LOTT: This recovery has been the equivalent of a “dead-cat bounce.” Thirty-five months into the recovery and the unemployment rate is still above 8 percent. But what is worse, the drop in unemployment has largely been from people giving up looking for work and leaving the labor force. People can stop being counted as unemployed either because they get a job or because they give up looking for work. Unfortunately, while 1.9 million jobs have been added during the recovery, 7.7 million more Americans are now classified as “not in the labor force.”

But are Obama’s policies responsible? That is the main issue of our book. We provide a lot of evidence on this, but compare Canada and the United States. Canadian and U.S. unemployment rates increased in lockstep from August 2008 until six months later, in February 2009, when the stimulus was passed in the United States. During those six months, the U.S. unemployment rate rose by 2.1 percentage points, from 6.1 percent to 8.2 percent, the Canadian by 1.9 percentage points, from 5.1 percent to 7 percent (using the Bureau of Labor Statistics measure to make the Canadian measure of unemployment comparable with the U.S. rate).

The graph that we have showing how much worse our economy performed after that is striking. Right after the U.S. enacted the $825 billion stimulus, the unemployment rates quickly diverged. While the U.S. unemployment rate soared, the Canadian unemployment rate leveled off and then began to fall. By contrast, today, our rate has not returned to what it was when Obama became president.