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Saturday, 27 July, 2002, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
US market misery threatens Bush
A troubled dealer on a US trading floor
The market slump has hit investors hard

Dr James Pepper and his wife ought to be in Florida. That was the plan.

Goodbye to the Washington DC traffic. Goodbye to the routine that sees him at the hospital early in the morning and sometimes late at night.

Goodbye to striving for the American Dream and hello to living it. But, he tells me with a sigh, "It didn't work out."

Dr Pepper is 62 and still at work. His suburban house - detached, neat, brightly painted - does not look like a bed of nails.

But Dr Pepper confesses, as we sit on the porch on a stifling humid Washington evening, that he is mighty fed up.

His wife is so fed up she doesn't show her face when I call round. She had set her heart on the Florida coast. She does not want to grow old here in workaday Washington.

But she might have to. A couple of years ago, the Peppers were wealthy.

Enron headquarters
The trouble at Enron has cost people their savings
Now courtesy of WorldCom and Enron and the rest they are not. They reckon they're down about 30% - enough to mean years more work.

The doctor offers to find precise figures but I stop him. That seems to be part of the problem here - the horrible immediacy of America's digitally wired life (the doctor was going to log on to get the latest take on his funds) is doing added psychological damage.

The mother of a friend of mine has pulled out of the market - at a considerable loss - but intends to buy back in once it goes up again.

Investment advice

You don't need to be John Maynard Keynes to see that this is unwise - cementing the loss now but probably not being there for the comeback when it arrives.

But my friend's mother just can't stand the anguish of her daily internet-based Wall Street vigil any longer.

The advice to buy for the long term is heard here but seldom really honoured.

People can finish their supper, flick on the laptop and see how little they are worth. It's corrosive.

They'd be far better off if the information came in British style - once a year in a form they didn't understand and fed to the dog.

What then is the damage? Well Bob Geldof isn't going to get involved. Food parcels will not be necessary.

There are poor people in America and they are kicked in the teeth every day - paid terrible wages and denied health insurance.

But the stock market crisis is not their worry. They never had the money to invest so they don't have a horse in this race.

US President George W Bush
Could the economic crisis hit the polularity of President Bush?
They didn't gain when the race was fun and the jumps were low. But now that the horses are falling and the jockeys are being taken bloodied from the course, they are in the happy position of the unaffected bystander.

The Wall Street disaster is not leading to Main Street starvation. What then is it leading to?

Its consequence is millions of Americans having to rethink their plans. Millions of Americans having to cope with disappointment.

Retirement postponed. Children educated in cheaper universities. Holidays cut from two weeks to one. Niggling disappointment leading to a desire to find someone to blame. Someone in charge.

I am talking of the political death of President Bush. Farfetched? On the face of it, yes. This president has been fabulously popular since 11 September - the Democrats have been in disarray.

Their main man Al Gore's principal contribution to the political life of the nation was to grow a beard. And then, enigmatically, shave it off.

Corporate reform

But suddenly - over the course of the past week - the Republicans are looking worried and the Democrats are on a roll, their first big roll since George Bush came to power.

The electoral arithmetic is simple. The 50% of Americans who own shares and are getting burned by the markets happen to be, roughly speaking, the same 50% who bother to vote.

And the president - who convinces them and speaks their language on so many other issues - does not seem to be able to find the knack to persuade them that he is doing all he can do on this one.

He looks horribly uncomfortable talking about corporate reform - his critics joke that he's spent 56 years on the planet but only worried about company regulation in the past two weeks.

So when he calls for action, when he trumpets his outrage, it looks fishy, it doesn't come from the heart.

It's all horribly reminiscent of a previous president who had record poll ratings and fought a successful foreign war but couldn't win a second term because he made a mess of the economy.

George Bush, prepare to meet your father.


The Markets: 9:29 UK
FTSE 100 5760.40 -151.7
Dow Jones 11380.99 -119.7
Nasdaq 2243.78 -28.9
FTSE delayed by 15 mins, Dow and Nasdaq by 20 mins
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26 Jul 02 | Business
15 Jul 02 | Business
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