James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo‘s …So Goes The Nation, which IFC will release in October, is easily the smartest, the most perceptive and the most fair-minded reading of the 2004 Presidential election I’ve ever seen or considered. I saw it at Toronto’s Paramount theatre last night around 8:45 pm, and came out fairly wowed. Anyone with an interest in this kind of riveting, down-to-it expose should catch it at the earliest opportunity.
The fact that Nation is a 90-minute doc and not a network TV news special is material but immaterial — the key thing is that it explains in the frankest terms imaginable how the John Kerry campaign blew it big-time with the middle American voting public, and how cagey and brilliant those evil and manipulative Bushies (hey, if the shoe fits…) were at almost every turn.
The fact that Kerry is a better, more thoughtful man than George Bush and, had he been elected, would have made for a wiser, less ideologically-driven U.S. President isn’t addressed. The doc is solely about the game of winning and losing as it was played two years ago. And the two things that come through are (a) many millions of Americans out there are living in states of appalling ignorance and religious superstition and are therefore ripe for shrewd exploitation, and (b) the Kerry people made so many mistakes it’s hard to keep track of them all, even in a doc as lucid and well-organized as this one.
A good-sized portion of the doc is about how and why the Bush forces managed a narrow victory in Ohio, which is the state that finally tipped the election in their favor. It’s been widely reported that Republican stooges (especially the ultra-partisan Republican Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell) suppressed Democratic votes, and I was surprised that the doc didn’t get into this a bit more than it did. Republicans, on the other hand, claimed that fake voters were being registered on the Democratic side.
Stern and Del Deo talked to many of the right top-level strategists on both sides, and everyone is in agreement by the end of the film that the Kerry forces couldn’t have played it worse. They fucked up just about everything. The top-level talking heads include Republican National Committee chairman Edward Gillespie, his Democratic counterpart Terry McAuliffe, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman , Kry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and senior Democratic adviser Paul Begala.
The film also focuses in one some local political activists on both sides of the aisle. I was especially taken with a young Democratic strategist type named Evan Hutchison who strikes me as a younger James Carville — a guy with a common, plain-spoken way about him, and yet smart as a whip.
Toward the end Hutchison says something very interesting about the differences between the Bush and Kerry campaigns. If a Bush worker had a good idea that looked like it might pan out, he/she was given a shot and wasn’t held back by organizational bickering or jealousy or a lack of high-level patronage, whereas the Kerry campaign, Hutchison felt, was too loaded down with older guys who’d done little more than lose campaigns and were looking to protect their power and their turf.
Listening to and acting upon good ideas is one of the essential qualities of any winning organization, and if what Hutchison says is true, I respect the Bushies a lot more now than I did before seeing this film.