IFC First Take
NEW YORK -- While there has been no recent shortage of politically themed documentaries, this effort from co-directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo
distinguishes itself with its clearheaded approach and (mostly) lack of bias. An examination of the 2004 presidential election centering on the controversial race in Ohio, So Goes the Nation
is particularly valuable for its insightful and ultimately depressing portrait of political machinations.
Not since The War Room
has a film gone into such depth as to the nuts and bolts of a political campaign. Incorporating interviews with campaign strategists from both sides, it examines the contrasting methods of the Democrats and the Republicans, with the latter, not surprisingly, coming out far ahead in terms of effectiveness.
The central figures interviewed include Edward Gillespie
and Terry McAuliffe
(chairmen of the Republican and Democratic national committees, respectively), Ken Mehlman
and Mary Beth Cahill
(President Bush and John Kerry's respective campaign managers), Matthew Dowd
and Tad Devine
(their campaign strategists), Mark McKinnon
(Bush's media strategist) and Paul Begala
(senior Democrat adviser).
But the film also looks at various unknown figures in the campaign, including several of the thousands of volunteers on both sides whose work would figure so prominently in the election.
There is one thing that both sides clearly agree on: The Republicans ran the superior campaign. While Bush was playing to his strengths and mustering support from his own base, Kerry's team was looking to appeal to the swing voter, with little success.
The contrasting messages of the two candidates are scrutinized as well. Bush's team emphasized the war on terrorism above all else, to great effect. Meanwhile Kerry, according to Begala, ineffectively tried to cover all bases with a strategy awkwardly shortened to JHOS
(jobs, health, oil and security).
The film vividly and credibly makes the sad case that current presidential elections are decided not so much on the basis of the issues involved or the comparative attributes of the candidates, but rather by which party has the best marketing team.