Most geeks that I have met tend to not hold a great deal of interest in politics. We generally would prefer to spend our time solving technical problems than debating presidential politics. However, if we compare the two men fighting to be the commander-in-chief of the United States for the next four years, one has a clear advantage from a Free Software perspective. In The Linux Week in Review 47, I will reveal which presidential candidate is the winner.
As I did my research for this article, I found that one of the two candidates has a very substantial record when it comes to supporting Free Software and Open Source. The other candidate has virtually no record. If support for Free Software is a primary consideration in how you will vote on November 6, 2012 (or earlier), this article will help you to make your decision in this critical election.
Governor Mitt Romney
As I researched the life and times of Willard Mitt Romney, one characteristic of the man was demonstrated over and over again: he is a gifted and natural businessman. I believe that business was what he was born to do. His talents are undeniable. Romney graduated cum laude near the top of his class at Harvard Law/Business School in 1975 (Pfeiffer, 2007). He was hired by Bain & Company, a Boston-based management consulting firm, in 1977. He rose to the position of vice-president within one year. His peers at Bain clearly saw that he was an exceptional talent. However, as I looked more closely at Romney’s life, one other characteristic became clear, one that is in stark contrast to Romney’s father, Governor George Romney.
While George Romney was a man who often fought the “establishment” and the “status quo”, the younger Romney more or less embraced it. George Romney was a man of deep religious faith who believed in taking action to right injustices. In June of 1963, George Romney took his place at the front of an NAACP march to protest housing discrimination (Blum & Harvey, 2012). Mitt Romney inherited his father’s strong religious faith, but I do not believe that he inherited his father’s sense of activism. While I believe that Mitt Romney is a good man, my impression is that he is the type of person who does not want to rock the boat. In May of 1966, Mitt Romney counter-protested against an anti-war and anti-draft sit-in at Stanford University (Breslow, 2012). Biographer Scott Helman summarized Romney best: “He is the kind of guy who would work within an institution, would follow the rules.”
Here are my conclusions on Governor Romney. He is a good man, a family man, and a brilliant business man. However, I do not believe that he would have the political will to stand up to lobbyists who would try to force proprietary solutions onto the United States government. He would support the status quo, and large corporations would continue to sign the United States government up for over-priced software contracts. When I think of the heroes of Free Software and Open Source such as Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, I do not think of people who “work within an institution and follow the rules.”
President Barack Obama
A picture speaks a thousand words. There is no clearer evidence that President Barack Obama is a geek than the famous picture of him wielding a light saber at the White House as his wife looks one in glee. (If you don’t believe it, you can see the picture here: http://goo.gl/qBX8b )
Being a geek is an innate quality. Geeks are not made, they are born. Barack Obama is a geek, Mitt Romney is not. This is not a criticism of the Governor, just an observation. Barack Obama first gained his street cred as a geek in January of 2008 when then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt asked candidate Obama “what is the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers?” If you asked this question of 100 politicians, you would almost certainly get blank stares from 99 of them. Without missing a beat, candidate Obama answered “I think the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go.” The shocked look on Eric Schmidt’s face demonstrated to me that Barack Obama was indeed someone special.
Politicians love photo ops. They will often stage events so that they look stronger than they really are. Is it possible that Barack Obama was spoon fed Schmidt’s question beforehand? Of course. However, what was most important to me was whether he followed up, and capitalized on his geek cred.
When President Obama took office in January of 2009, one of his first acts was to re-launch WhiteHouse.gov using the open source content management system, Drupal. Dries Buytaert, the inventor of Drupal, gushed about the momentous occasion on his blog (Buytaert, 2009). When I first heard of the White House’s switch to Drupal, I remember feeling a sentiment very similar to what comedian Jimmie Walker expressed when Jay Leno got the Tonight Show: one of “us” had made it! Jay Leno wrote comedy material for Jimmie Walker back in the Good Times days of the 1970s (as did David Letterman), and Jimmy Walker felt that Jay Leno’s success reflected well on all of the comedians in their group.
What I have observed about President Obama’s personality is that he likes to lead by having you observe what he does, and then having you follow suit. He did this with open source, and he did it again recently with early voting. After the White House switched to Drupal, several other U.S. government organizations also switched to Free Software/Open Source. The U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, NASA, and the FCC are major divisions within the U.S. government that now make extensive use of open source software. The adoption of Free Software has accelerated rapidly during the Obama Administration. The most important thing that the Obama administration did was to direct all government agencies to consider open source. This is a quote directly from WhiteHouse.gov: “A prominent theme from the National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites was the need to phase out the use of custom-built technology. Participants in the dialogue recommended that the Federal Government use open source technology to enable more sharing of data and make content more accessible.” (WhiteHouse.gov)
President Obama and Governor Romney are both fine, upstanding men. As a young man in Chicago, Obama passed up a lucrative legal career. Instead, he chose to become a low paid community organizer who served Chicago’s poor. Mitt Romney is a man of deep faith who served as a Mormon missionary during his youth. Each man brings great talents to the table, so much so that I believe that the United States will be blessed regardless of which man wins. However, as far a Free Software is concerned, there are drastic differences between the two men. President Obama has embraced Free Software like no other president in U.S. history. In contrast, I can find no evidence that Mitt Romney even knows what Free Software is.
My conclusions are crystal clear. There is only one of these two men that I can endorse if I base my decision solely on the basis of their support for Free Software. Free Software is part of a balanced approach that we can take to lower the crushing U.S. government’s debt and deficit. Crony capitalism has forced the U.S. government to spend money that it does not have buying proprietary software solutions, when open source equivalents are plentiful and cheap. The Obama administration is the first presidential administration in history that has actually sought to reign in this abuse.
A shift to Free Software will not solve all of the U.S.’s problems, but the discipline needed to shift to Free Software will be of value as politicians decide on difficult spending cuts.
I endorse the re-election of President Barack Obama, a champion for Free Software and Open Source.
Blum, E.J., Harvey, P. (2012, August 13). How (george) romney championed civil rights and challenged his church. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/h56r1
Breslow, J. (2012, September 17). Artifact two: mitt romney protesting the protesters. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/MQq2V
Buytaert, D. (2009). Whitehouse.gov using drupal. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/x474
Pfeiffer, S. (2007, June 26). Romney’s harvard classmates recall his quick mind, positive attitude. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/M791q
WhiteHouse.gov (no date). Digital government building a 21st century platform to better serve the american people. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/QVH2k