Sort of a companion piece to "Shut Up and Sing" (the documentary following the Dixie Chicks and the fallout of lead singer Natalie Maines' comment about George Bush), "...So Goes the Nation" is directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo's look behind-the-scenes of the 2004 election and, more specifically, how it all came down to Ohio.
It must be said that this is a documentary that explores all sides of the story in a mostly balanced manner and provides an interesting and often dismaying look into the realities of politics today. Throughout the film, we bounce back-and-forth between covering the two campaigns. The Republican campaign had to face low approval numbers, a very controversial war, economic issues and more. The Democrats had John Kerry, a senator and former soldier.
Bush's weaknesses resulted in the campaign coming out swinging, with a campaign against Kerry's service in the military (the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"), attacks against Kerry's record (that he "flip-flopped" on a lot of issues) and using scare tactics/fear. Kerry's response - and this film makes it more crystal clear than ever - was just not enough. Kerry could have easily responded to the attacks against his service record, but chose not to do negative campaigning, which Kerry advisors admit was a big mistake.
Kerry brought out celebs for the cause and, although I'm of the opinion that celebs have the right to voice their opinions like everyone else, it's quite apparent (see a scene where Fisher Stevens is shouted down by a Bush supporter and looks at the camera as if he's found himself in the midst of a hopeless situation) here that that was just not the answer. Bush, despite evidence against the fact, managed to sell himself as a "man of the people", which Kerry clearly did not. Republicans learned from their mistakes, while the Democrats did not learn from their errors.
The documentary offers thoughts from the heads of both campaigns - on Kerry's side, we get: communications director Tad Devine, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and consultant Paul Begala and on Bush's side, we get: chief strategist Matthew Dowd, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, media director Mark McKinnon and campaign manager Ken Mehlman. Both sides are quite honest in their discussion of the tactics they used or wish they'd used and where they feel that they went right and wrong. We even follow along as volunteers hit the streets in order to get out the vote and sell their candidates.
And that's the core of the film: it's all a matter of selling and somehow, Bush's campaign was able to sell Bush well enough to a deeply divided country - despite falling approval ratings and several other problems - to get him into the White House for another term. The documentary does show how one state can make or break a presidential run, but it also shows - in an organized and interesting way - the day-to-day details of a campaign and how a candidate is sold to the populace.
As many suspicious elements as there were to the Ohio voting (Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell was the state’s Chief of Elections and the co-chair of the Committee to Re-elect George Bush), "So Goes the Nation" makes it evident that Kerry, sadly, did not do a sufficent job (and made some considerable mistakes; a top Kerry aide admits they essentially had no strategy, while the Republicans had a clear one) campaigning against Bush and his negative spin on Kerry's record. It's all about marketing and Bush's team was more successful.
VIDEO: "So Goes the Nation" is presented in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Understandably, the low-budget effort does show some varying image quality throughout the show. Although most brighter, outdoor scenes are clear and at least moderately crisp, some look a bit soft and some darker interiors look noticably soft and even a bit murky. Some minor shimmering and some light artifacting is seen. Colors largely looked nicely saturated and clean, but some slight smearing was seen in a few scenes.
SOUND: The film's stereo soundtrack offered clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo offer a commentary.
Final Thoughts: As much as I followed the events of this election, the film managed to make some aspects of it even more clear and provided a compelling look at the day-to-day events. The DVD presents fine audio/video quality and one extra. Recommended.
The Film B+