During his speech last night President Obama made an unplanned reference to Steve Jobs, which is weird because the two didn't have the best relationship, nor was Jobs that categorically great for America. Originally, Obama was supposed to mention Google, but instead inserted the Apple icon's name into the following line: "We believe that a little girl who’s offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college could become the next Steve Jobs," he said. Not only did Obama snub Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but he chose to insert a man who once said to the president's face that he was "headed for a one-term presidency," according to Walter Issacson's Steve Jobs biography. Even so, his choice makes total sense.
Obama has used Jobs to exemplify the American dream before. During last year's State of the Union Address, Obama dropped Jobs into his speech as such: "You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That ... means we should support everyone who's willing to work; and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs," he said, with Jobs' wife Laurene Powell Jobs sitting as a guest of honor right next to Michelle Obama.
As we noted back then, however, Jobs as a symbol of the American dream presents a lot of contradictions. Yes, he came up from nothing to build the now most valuable company of all time. But the company itself isn't very patriotic. Contrary to what it claims, it hasn't done very well at creating U.S. jobs, and much of its product manufacturing happens in less than stellar factories in China. Jobs didn't have a problem with this. When Obama met with him and asked him about bringing those Foxconn jobs back to America, the iPhone maker answered, "Those jobs aren’t coming back," reported The New York Times.
Despite that, Obama chose Jobs over "the founders of Google" because his name resonates with us more. We the people have removed Steve Jobs the man from Steve Jobs the founder of Apple the not-so-patriotic company. He is this century's inventor icon, having been called the modern Thomas Edison by many. The kind of emotional outpouring that happened after his death doesn't happen for the average successful businessman. Jobs means more to more people, which makes him the perfect name to get people's attention. That's also why Republican nominee Mitt Romney stuck him into his acceptance speech last week with the following lines: "Business and growing jobs is about taking risk, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving. It is about dreams. Usually, it doesn’t work out exactly as you might have imagined. Steve Jobs was fired at Apple. He came back and changed the world," he said. The specifics of Jobs' politics don't matter. He signals success, the all-American way.
Plus, Google doesn't have the cache it once did. Over the last year, with various privacy and anti-trust snafus, it has started to look a bit more evil and slightly less beloved. Jobs may have been a notorious jerk, but not many would associate him with evil. No: We think of him as proof that the American dream is not yet dead.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.