In an election year, there’s always talk of the October surprise that will jumble the race. What if there’s a serious terror attack? Would the public rally ’round the Repubs as the traditional party of national security issues, or blame them because it happened on “their watch.” How about the Iraqi version of a Tet offensive? A late-breaking scandal involving one of the presidential candidates? (Remember the George W. Bush drunk-driving incident just before Election Day 2000?) You get the idea. Usually, when we talk about the October surprise, we think in these terms.
I was talking to a friend and the subject of possible October surprises and he said, “The first October surprise is going to be when everyone gets the quarterly statements on their IRA or 401(k).”
My friend is probably right. Many Americans are worried about losing their home or their job. They don’t need anything to personalize the financial market crisis. But for many of us the biggest personal impact we will feel from the financial crisis will be a reduction in our retirement savings.
So, here is it Oct. 1, the first day of the new calendar quarter. I don’t know whether you are the kind of person that often checks on your investments or the more passive type who waits for the statements to come in the mail. I used to be the former type, but (I gather this is not an uncommon reaction to the recent Wall Street meltdown) haven’t had the nerve to do it recently. My conversation with my friend forced me to get out of denial. So I just checked.
My 401(k) is down 20 percent for the year to date, 14 percent for the third quarter, which ended yesterday after the Dow disaster of Monday and the partial bounce back of Tuesday. To tell you the truth, with all the hyped talk, I was a little relieved. Definitely not happy, but that was within my expectations. It will not change my life plans much.
Will the arrival of those statements be the October surprise that personalizes this giant, complex, confusing news story for a lot more Americans? Will they blame it on Bush? McCain? Republicans generally? Might Republicans find a way to blame it on Obama Democrats?