Washington may be gridlocked and divided, but there's one thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on: Steve Jobs was awesome.
President Obama had a somewhat complicated relationship with the late Apple CEO, who reportedly told him he was on track to a one-term presidency, threw a hissy fit that the president hadn't personally requested an interview with him, and lectured him on the advantages of doing business in China. Nonetheless, with his widow in attendance, Jobs got a heroic name-drop in last night's State of the Union:
You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who's willing to work; and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.
Not to be outdone, Mitch Daniels also paid tribute to the iHero in the GOP rebuttal:
Contrary to the president's constant disparagement of people in business, it's one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs -- what a fitting name he had -- created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.
As several commentators have noted, neither of these men appear to have read last Sunday's front-page New York Times article about Apple moving its manufacturing to Asia -- particularly odd in Obama's case since his own conversations with Jobs are the centerpiece of it.
Praise for Jobs and Apple has become a mainstay of this year's campaign rhetoric as well. Mitt Romney has compared his leadership style to Jobs'. Newt Gingrich has lamented that "it takes 15 to 20 years to build a weapons system, at a time when Apple changes technology every nine months." Rick Santorum even copied Apple's famous 1984 commercial in one of his campaign spots. (It should be noted that none of these candidates come close to the iPhone-toting Michele Bachmann in full-bore Apple fetishism.)
I've written before that Apple's aggresively monopolistic business practices, disdain for philantropy, atrocious labor record, and less-than-impressive environmental credentials make Jobs an unlikely liberal hero. And a new-agey, acid-dropping, "anchor baby of an activist Arab muslim who came to the U.S. on a student visa and had a child out of wedlock" seems equally unlikely to set Republican hearts racing.
So why all the bipartisan love? Some of it's probably respect for the recently dead. Some of it's a sense that love for Apple's ingeniously designed products crosses party lines. Plus, there's a prevailing sense that, as the Onion succintly put it, Jobs was the "last American who knew what the fuck he was doing."
As a stridently non-political figure, Jobs has become something of a blank screen that politicians can use to project any message they want. I'm not sure he would have appreciated it.