While I'm perfectly happy not to give much more than a moment's thought to the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky mess, there is one aspect of this episode that I find fascinating. At this writing (about three weeks ago as you read this), at a time when most of the country believes that there probably is something to the story, the President's approval ratings have actually gone up.
This is not the way us Puritanical Americans are supposed to think. But with all due respect to the Clinton haters out there, I think there's something quite positive in it. While the media drones on endlessly over all the tawdry hearsay, the public seems to be taking a higher view. Opinion poles suggest that most Americans would rather see our political energies spent on tending to the business of the nation than on the incessant scrutiny of our elected officials' personal lives.
It's striking how out of touch—perhaps even irrelevant—the news out of Washington these days seems in comparison to most of our personal and work lives. And that's another thing I find especially encouraging...not the Washington part, that is, but the increasing measure of hard work and initiative that is so pervasive across the rest of the country.
It's particularly true of the metalworking community. Yes, there are laggards everywhere, but a great many of the companies in our industry are making impressive strides in improving productivity (as is the whole nation), the quality of their work, and the quality of their organizations.
You can see it in the investment patterns. Last year the U.S. actually improved the position it already held as the world's most vibrant machine tool market. We now have the tightest labor market in a generation, but that's forced companies to figure out how to produce more with less people (and that knowledge will serve us well in the next downturn). But a more meaningful measure to me is the can-do attitude that seems so ingrained in the shops I visit these days. I'm hearing a lot fewer excuses, and seeing a lot more evidence of improvement.
A good business climate makes it easier, of course. There's business to be gained right now for shops that can deliver. But companies are doing a whole lot more than just boosting capacity. And that makes me feel a whole lot better about our future than wondering whether politicians behave themselves behind closed doors.