So Goes the Nation
At one point in American history politics was something that only concerned the citizens after the end of summer. As November and Election Day grew closer men would sit around and argue about two main topics, politics and the baseball’s World Series. Now, with many twenty four hour news channels, more political commentators that most can keep track of and even politically oriented comedy, politics is something almost constantly in the news. Because of this cinema has moved on from the political drama like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and on th documentaries that intrigue the public. Documentaries once where the films that when their awards were being given on the Oscars, many went out to the kitchen for a snack. In recent years the political documentary has moved from the back of the art house to mainstream. One of this recent trend is ‘So Goes the Nation’ by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern. This film takes a look at Ohio’s involvement in the highly debated 2004 Presidential Election.
One thing was sure about the 2004 Presidential race, it would be close. The terms red and blue states where not only on the lips on many Americans but they made for numerous color maps adorning the screens of every television news program. The cloud that shrouded George W. Bush’s initial election, mostly concerning hanging chads in Florida, were for the most part history. Del Deo and Stern apparently set out to look at similar potential voting irregularities in Ohio but what they cam up with was far less partisan and much more interesting. This documentary is more ‘fair and balanced’ than most political films. It looks at successes and mistakes made in both the Republican and Democratic camps. Years ago during my undergraduate days I took a sociology class that examined the electoral process like any advertising campaign. We used as our main textbook Joe McGinniss’ book ‘The Selling of a President’. In Modern politics the candidates are marketed and sold to the public like a box of breakfast cereal. While this film does have a bit of bias towards the democrats it does examine and represents both sides of this historical election.
Many point to potential indications that this election was ‘stolen’. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. even made a statement to that effect. The film offers up facts such as Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. He not only served in that election as the state’s Chief of Elections but was the co-chair of the Committee to Re-elect George Bush. It should be noted that there is a lot of overlap in any political position. This documentary shows that a simple case of stealing the election was not at the heart of the results. The democrats failed to mount a sufficient campaign to unseat an incumbent President. Democratic candidate John Kerry depended on his war hero status to carry the day. This was countered by the famous, or as some would say, infamous Swift Boat advertisements that put Kerry’s war record under a shadow. The Democrats could have flung some mud back with Bush’s State side service and the irregularities that may surround it but they did not. There was also the pure dumb luck of Osama Bin Laden’s November 1st video which only served to reinforce one of the main planks of the Republican platform, the war on terror. The film also goes into such items as vote identification requirements and a lack of voting machines in predominately Democratic area but no hard evidence is offered to either confirm or deny these allegations. Instead of pounding on the issues the Democrats parade out celebrities of various degrees such as Daphne Zuniga and Matt Dillion. Like a new breakfast item they depended on endorsements not issues. In one scene actor Fisher Stevens is taken on very successfully by a Bush supporter in the crowd. The endorsement of a fine actor does not make a candidate a president. Running things for the Republicans was senior presidential aide, Karl Rove. He is known for his ability to take the opposition’s strengths and turn them into apparent weaknesses. He did this here with Kerry’s status as a war hero. He also had the President pound away at the need for the war in the middle east and how he has worked to keep the homeland safe from terrorist. One issue that could have been used by the Democrats was the debate over gay marriage. The Democrats were placed in a position that to come out against this would leave them open to attacks on religious and moral grounds. The Democrats where able to take the more liberal and progressive coasts but failed to appeal to the heartland. Since pure numbers of votes don’t matter as much as the, to many, mysterious Electoral College, key states like Ohio could and did swing the election. Bush could just sit back, let Kerry speak and then denounce him as a ‘flip flopper’ in public.
The election was not about the vital issues of the day as much as it was about the men. Subjective attacks helped to win for the Republicans.The ultimate conclusions presented in this film is the Democrats where ill prepared for the race. They were unable to provide and aggressive enough platform and campaign to win against the much more politically savvy Republicans. The directors do seem to lament this but distributes the blame to both sides. Unlike documentary makes like Michael Moore these two men where willing to change their focus and look at the involvement on both sides. The made the effort to get statements from both the Republicans and the Democrats. Although both men are from rich and privileged families campaign ads show Bush chopping wood but Kerry wind surfing. One man comes across as down home while the other has his ads backfire and seems elitist. The directors show that mistakes where made by the Democratic team that were countered and exploited by their rival Republicans.
Genius Productions in partnership with the Independent Film Channel have been bringing the best in little known films to the public. Here they bring this interesting and thought provoking work to DVD. The video is in 4:3 matted widescreen with reasonable color balance and contrast. The Dolby stereo audio is nothing special but it does get the job done. There are no extras but this film stands on its own and it worth the purchase. If you are at all interested in the political system this is a must have.