James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo’s …So Goes the Nation defies expectations. This is not some whiny get-over-it doc about George W. Bush stealing two elections but an evenhanded look at the 2004 election and what Bush’s victory reveals about the pulse and direction of the nation. Stern and Del Deo’s focus never shifts from the minutiae of Bush and Kerry’s election campaigns, illuminating how Republicans and Democrats have switched places over the course of 20 years in the way they project their core values and stances on certain issues. The film’s highlight is footage of Bush’s volunteer field program shaming the Kerry camp’s namby-pamby attack plan to get people to vote in Ohio districts. This is how the documentary begins to suggest that the last presidential election basically came down to a matter of popularity, an impression validated by none other than Mark McKinnon, chief media advisor to Bush, and Ken Mehlman, chair of the Republican National Committee. You will never again hear this many Republicans admit to Bush using fear to regain control of the White House: running on the only two issues he could, Iraq and gay marriage; appealing to the “primitive” instincts of the heartland (via fear-mongering ad campaigns, including commercials that likened Republicans to wolves); and ingeniously turning everything Kerry said or did against him. From McKinnon’s own mouth we are told that the majority of Americans agree with Democrats on many issues, but that the elitism of the party is off-putting to the heartland. This is disquieting given that Republicans, though they project a more down-on-the-range image of themselves, are more likely to pander to the interests of the rich and powerful. This is a paradox the likes of Karl Rove would say that Democrats have been unable to successfully exploit. Which is what …So Goes the Nation essentially comes down to: In expertly tracing how Republicans play a better game of politics than Democrats, it also provides the party of Kerry and Clinton with a handbook to switching the tables around in 2008.
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