A detailed and somewhat straggling account of the 2004 presidential election’s flashpoint climax in Ohio, James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo’s new doc bounces between the day-to-day buildup to Election Day and after-the-fact interviews, searching for answers. The filmmakers wonder how such a counterintuitive political scenario could emerge: the re-election of an incumbent plagued by low approval ratings, amid an economic downturn, rising unemployment, and a disastrous and illegal war. So Goes the Nation has no new conspiracy theories, settling instead for a meticulous examination of the two political parties’ hellbent voter-seduction strategies, from demographic outreach to slam ads. In other words, and despite its well-meaning “fair and balanced” approach barely disguising a Democratic outrage, the movie joins most of the mainstream media in regarding the race as a matter of voter manipulation—whoever suckers the most fools with the simplest and most mercenary tactics wins. “It’s got nothing to do with right or wrong,” says Republican vote harvester Leslie Ghiz about the entire persuasive process, moments before she has the temerity to say that the November 1 Bin Laden video was, for her purposes, “too good to be true.” Using gay marriage as a scarecrow for middle-American voters is going too far for the filmmakers, but in general they only seem saddened that the Democrats weren’t as wily, amoral, and bullet-headed as the neocons. Perhaps they’re right in some fashion, given Bush Inc.’s body count. But isn’t reducing the discourse to bad jokes, boogeyman rants, and 30-second TV ads exactly the problem, regardless of who wins? The campaign managers being interviewed make a spectacle of themselves, smugly taking credit for manufacturing every dumbfuck voting rationale ever fed to an undereducated American public. How they live with themselves is a line of questioning braver filmmakers will have to pose.