Microtrends vs Macrotrends: Why Obama is Winning

Mark Penn and the Clintons devised policies and personas only to watch dumbfounded as their microtrend sandcastles were washed away by the macrotrend tidal wave of the Obama campaign.
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CHICAGO -- Should Barack Obama end up winning his party's nomination, he will give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on August 28 -- 45 years to the day Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

If this moment happens, it will be because of what Sir Martin Sorrell (CEO of the conglomerate WPP, which includes among its many companies Mark Penn's Burson-Marsteller) said. "Mark Penn," he told me the other night in Los Angeles, "literally wrote the book on microtrends, but this election is about a macrotrend."

Penn and the Clintons set about slicing up the electorate into the "small forces behind tomorrow's big changes" that Penn described in his 2007 book Microtrends. They then devised policies and personas to try to appeal to each one -- only to watch dumbfounded as their microtrend sandcastles were washed away by the macrotrend tidal wave of the Obama campaign.

"Hillary Clinton's campaign model," David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist told me this morning in Chicago, "is a very tired Washington model: 'I'll do these things for you.' Barack's model is 'Let's do these things together.' This has been the premise of Barack's politics all his life, going back to his days as a community organizer. He has really lived and breathed it, which is why it comes across so authentically.

"Of course, the time also has to be right for the man and the moment to come together. And, after all the country has been through over the last seven years, the times are definitely right for the message that the only way to get real change is to activate the American people to demand it."

The microtrend vs macrotrend dynamic reminds me of Isaiah Berlin's division of mankind into hedgehogs and foxes. He took his imagery from a line in an ancient Greek poem by Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

According to Berlin, the fox will "pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way." This stands in sharp contrast to the hedgehog's "all embracing...unitary inner vision."

Based on the way the '08 campaign has played out, Democratic voters are showing signs of deep fox fatigue -- sick and tired of foxy triangulating, foxy slicing-and-dicing of the message, and foxy shifts in presentation. Voters want real change -- not daily changes in approach and messaging.

It's too early to sign the death certificate, but should the Clinton campaign end up in need of an epitaph, it won't need to look further than Penn's book. "Small is the new big," he wrote. "Many of the biggest movements in America today are small."

Except when they are very big, and getting bigger by the day. And you've missed them.

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