Stuart Carlson knows that other folks are worse off.
He lives with his cat, Dusty, in a two-story colonial with the American flag flying out front and a Ford truck in the driveway, just a half-block from the town's 18-hole golf course. Carlson retired early — in 2003 in his mid-50s — after investing and saving throughout his career as a metallurgist.
"I was frugal," Carlson says. "Thought I had made all the right moves."
It's with a particularly acute sense of contempt for politicians, then, that Carlson approaches the Nov. 4 election between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Over the past year, Carlson has lost more than $250,000 of his retirement money in the country's financial spiral and has gone back to working about 40 hours a week, mostly consulting jobs.
"The part that bothers me is that it didn't have to happen," says Carlson, a Republican, standing behind his screen door in a polo shirt and jeans one recent morning. Wall Street executives and Congress mishandled the economy, he vents — especially Democrats.
"I blame Chris Dodd; I blame Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer. And it really irritates me when Nancy Pelosi steps up there and waves that $700 billion [bailout] bill in the air, saying it's a complete failure of the Bush administration, when the truth is that her House of Representatives, her finance committee, allowed this to go on.
"And so it's politics as usual," Carlson says. "Nobody wants to take the blame. … Even Obama gets up there and says, 'This is a failure of the Bush Administration.' I know there've been failures in the administration, that's for sure. But it's more than that. I wish these people would just tell the truth."
Carlson isn't happy with McCain, either — "a lot of political rhetoric on both sides," he says — but the Arizona senator will get his vote. Carlson distrusts and dislikes Obama, whom he considers a socialist "at heart."
Still, the 60-year-old predicts that Obama will win the election. And he has faith that if he rides out the market slump, the economy will eventually gain strength and ease his losses.
In the meantime, Carlson does the little things: sawing the silver maple tree in his yard instead of hiring someone to cut it down, looking for savings at the grocery store, and regretting the white 1957 Ford Thunderbird with red interior he bought in February for $38,000, one of the rare extravagances of his life. It now sits in his garage and reminds him of greener days.