Technology policy hasn’t been high list of discussion topics in this year’s election. Yet President Obama echoed the words of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
When asked how he would bring manufacturing jobs — such as the ones Apple has outsourced to China — back to the United States, Obama responded: “There are some jobs that are not going to come back. If we’re not training engineers to make sure that they are equipped here in this country. Then companies won’t come here.”
The exchange prompted The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza to name Apple as both a debate winner and a loser in The Fix’s debate wrap-up.
“ iPad and iPhone both get mentions in the debate! Free publicity! (As if they need anymore!),” he noted. On the other hand, Cillizza said, debate moderator Candy Crowley “noted that they make their products in China! Ouchy.”
But Obama’s remarks should have sounded familiar to anyone who read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.
According to the book, Jobs made essentially the same argument to Obama at a February 2011 dinner in Silicon Valley.
“Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train more American engineers,” the book said.
Jobs apparently told Obama that Apple needs 30,00 engineers on site to support 700,000 factory workers in China.
“You can’t find that many in America to hire,” Jobs said. “If you could educate those engineers, we could move more manufacturing plants here,” according to the biography.
A New York Times report on the same dinner said that Jobs also told Obama that the basic, low-wage, low-skill manufacturing jobs “aren’t coming back” to the United States.”
Obama reportedly followed up on Jobs’s complaint, Issacson wrote, and Jobs even expressed interest in helping with the campaign’s advertising.
In his response to the debate question, Mitt Romney cited another issue faced by the technology industry: China. “China’s been cheating over the years,” Romney said, by suppressing the value of its currency and ignoring intellectual property rights.
“There’s even an Apple store in China that’s a counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods,” he said. “They hack into our computers. We will have to have people play on a fair basis, that’s number one.”
Romney said that the United States has to make itself “attractive” to entrepreneurs.
The debate was a big hit with the perpetually plugged-in. Microsoft’s Xbox Live service reported that more than 100,000 people watched its livestream of the town hall, while Twitter logged 7.2 million tweets during the debate.
The debate also, of course, inspired a new meme that’s taking the Internet by storm after Romney said that he had searched “binders full of women” for job recruits when he was Massachusetts governor. According to a tweet from Google’s politics account, searches for the term “binders” went up 425 percent during the debate’s first hour.