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worth watching, but should have been longer/had better research
A documentary covering the 2004 election, and particularly focusing on the swing state Ohio, is probably something close to essential viewing for those who want to see the inner-workings of election-year politics on both sides and to see what makes both sides work and not work, sometimes at the same time or not at all. But the problem with So Goes the Nation is that it doesn't go far enough, it doesn't dig into items that are of crucial importance to understanding why 2004 was such a MAJOR misstep in one of the US's most important elections.
So much has been written and discussed about the scandal with the Diebold machines- those little voting machines that, by way of the man who supplied them (I forget the name, but the man basically promised to deliver Ohio to the republicans)- as well as Ken Blackwell, that it's given practically no notice at all. In the scant 90 minute running time the filmmakers dig into the nuts and bolts of why so many people ended up voting for Bush over Kerry, or why Kerry didn't get the kind of support he could've gotten. But there's so much corruption, as with Florida in 2000 (if not, at the time, as noticeable as what happened there, arguably), that leaving it out negates the fact that, despite whatever the republicans might get right in manipulating the right voters their way, also lie, cheat, steal, and disenfranchise voters (particularly minorities) where it suits them best.
But I digress; So Goes the Nation does work, at least, in its 90 minutes, on the terms of live-and-learn storytelling, and as a form of quasi-political analysis. It's actually a documentary republicans might like even more than the democrats (aside from the fact, of course, that Bush got the presidency for a second term, albeit the results afterward), as it clarifies the strengths that the republicans end up having if a) given the right opponent like Kerry, particularly for someone like Karl Rove, and b) the power to bring out the base of supporters in record numbers by playing up the fear angle. It goes without saying that the Kerry campaign, and Kerry perhaps, made mistakes along the way. But it's fascinating (and, for a democrat like myself, more than a little disillusioning) to see how emotional response in the voter, catch-phrases hold on more than things like, say, policy. We hear more than couple of times people comment on Bush's strategy, which was to try and obfuscate the fact that they were an administration that, domestically, was for the elite, and had a policy of continuous war overseas, and paint Bush as an everyman on the ranch. Everything starts with "yeah, he's this or that" and ends with "but..." when referring to a man who, as time has shown even to many republicans, is an emperor with no clothes.
But once again, I digress- this is the kind of response that So Goes the Nation might provoke out of the thinking viewer, on either side of the fence, about what it means to look at the past (RFK, Reagan, Bush 1 and Clinton all played the same politics games as these two and, in a way, were maybe better at it overall) when looking at the present. And as far as making it multi-faceted, the filmmakers do get some good footage and interviews with those who canvassed and led the charge in Ohio on each side to try and garner the votes for the candidates. There's a sense of frenzy that is captured, up to a point- albeit not showing nearly enough the number of lines and the full-blown reality (save for a startling mention of Dick Tracy/Mary Poppins voters registered all over the state)- that reminds one how it's not simply the politicians and campaigners that need to learn a thing or two about what to do, or what works, or what should be tried or utilized with the overwhelming power of the media, but about the democratic process itself.
The title itself suggests a duality- so goes the nation in general, a 'so-it-goes' thing, or so goes the nation with a question mark? Not at all a very good or complete look at one of the most warped dramas played out in American political history in recent memory, but it is a good film to show in the likes of schools or to perplexed protesters.
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