Most politicians probably don’t use Linux. After all, some of them have barely figured out computers at all. But since the American presidential campaigning season is once again upon us, I’ve been wondering to myself lately: If the candidates did run Linux, which distribution would they choose? At the risk of offending various groups of people, here are my answers, for better or for worse.
To be clear, and to temper some of the passionately loathsome comments that a post like this might inspire, I’ll preface these thoughts with an assurance that they are not intended as an endorsement of any candidate, party or ideology. Personally, I’d like to resurrect Rousseau’s state of nature, if only I thought it could endure. And there would be no Linux there, since everyone would be running around the forest. But that’s neither here nor there.
Linux Distributions of Choice
That said, here are my picks for presidential candidates’ Linux distributions of choice:
First, let’s start with the current leader of the Republican pack, Mitt Romney. If he ran Linux, I’d pin him as a Debian user. It’s a bland but predictable distribution, the Old Faithful of the open source world. Although not particularly stylish or sensational itself, it nonetheless has provided the foundation upon which myriad more trendy distributions have been built by borrowing its ideas and adding flair. And it’s also the distribution many of us will default to from time to time — not because we think it’s the best, but because it’s better than all the others.
Moving on to Ron Paul, gNewSense would clearly be his distribution of choice. It’s radically free — as in, no proprietary code whatsoever, anywhere — and it doesn’t worry about offending anyone on its crusade to spread the Free Software gospel. It’s also one of the few distributions endorsed by Richard Stallman, who happens as well to be a fan (with a few reservations) of Paul.
Newt Gingrich is a tough call. My guess is that he’d refuse to use Linux at all, since he’s such a path-breaking, unconventional guy — or at least believes he is. Maybe he’d run one of the BSDs, but more likely he’d have an operating system custom written just for him. And then he’d pout when his adversaries used their superior resources to denounce his OS and scare users away.
Then there’s Rick Perry. A man so strongly committed to cultivating an image as a rough-and-tumble cowboy would probably not spend much time in front of a computer, but if he had to, it would run Slackware. Like Perry, Slackware — as the oldest continually existing Linux distribution — once promised to go far, but it stumbled in the face of more polished contenders backed by stronger organizational networks. Now everyone’s just waiting for Slackware to cash in its chips, but at this point, chances are it will at least outlive Perry’s campaign for the Republican nomination.
Last but not least among the Republicans are John Huntsman (who, at the time of this writing, was still in contention) and Rick Santorum. The former, I suspect, would choose Mandriva Linux, which is like Huntsman in that everyone ignores it but doesn’t know why. It’s actually a very solid distribution with a great focus on user-friendliness; unfortunately, it never seems to get the media attention it deserves.
As for Santorum, he’d most likely go with Fedora. Although it has the potential to appeal to a wide swath of open source users, Fedora mostly focuses on a narrower, geekier base that demands cutting-edge code. Similarly, Santorum’s fierce commitment to a conservative constituency will probably prevent him from gaining the broad support he needs to overcome his competitors.
And finally, on the other side of the fold, there’s Barack Obama. He’d doubtless run Ubuntu, the distribution that tends to set ambitious goals that get people excited, then breaks hearts when the harsh realities of real life — not to mention uncooperative partners elsewhere in the open source channel — inevitably cause it to fall short of realizing all of its lofty objectives. Its survival will depend on its continued ability to inspire the masses, as well as the absence of any competing distribution that promises to do a better job.
A Final Thought
Since I’m writing this from Paris, where I’ve been expatriated for most of the last two years, the American presidential campaign has much less of an immediate impact on my life than, say, the European sovereign debt crisis and impending collapse of the euro. Also, I cast my absentee ballot in New York, where my vote for president doesn’t actually matter at all, thanks to the way the electoral college is stacked.
But these things are still lots of fun to follow, and I’ll be eager to see where the worlds of both open source software and American politics find themselves next year at this time.