You can become a rock star without singing or playing an instrument.
Take Abraham Lincoln, for example.
I used to wonder how Lincoln was able to serve only one two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives and then become president of the United States.
How did he do that?
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He did it in part by becoming a rock star. Lincoln was elected long before radio, television or movies. Most voters back then had little more entertainment than preachers, church singers, traveling theater companies and books, of course.
Lincoln was far more than a politician. Speeches were his game. He and several other traveling orators drew huge crowds. He stood out among the others because he was more contemporary in his anecdotes and quips.
Lincoln frequently expressed himself with humor. He was a bit like a stand-up comic using a snappy commentary that made people laugh.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,” he said. He was often self-deprecating: "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"
His speeches to huge crowds brought him fame. Stenographers turned Lincoln’s words into stacks of newspapers distributed far and wide by trains. That gave him a crucial means to stand out in the crowd.
He endeared himself to people like some of today’s favorite entertainers and political satirists. His ecstatic fans couldn’t get enough of him. That made him a rock star. He didn’t play an instrument but he played the heart strings of his delighted followers.
Rock stars can create an emotional bond between crowd and leader. Some of the link occurs naturally, and some comes from the fact faddish people will eagerly join a candidate’s cause because everybody else is doing it.
Anyone with a huge gift for entertainment and powerful personal appeal can ignite a crowd of followers to an extent that creates political puppy love and borderline worship. Those excited fans share simultaneous heart palpitations, not unlike fans of musical rock stars.
Some leaders and performers are born with a captivating style. Yes, some may be snake oil salesmen while others are a powerful source for good.
Jesus was a rock star – a man with a message, a do-gooder leading and looking out for the downtrodden, standing on a mountain saying soothing things to the troubled and the lonely.
The current presidential race offers two natural-born rock stars, neither of whom is musical. One is Republican Donald Trump. The other is Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders. Those two are far apart from each other in their methods and messages, but they have in common a huge reaction from the massive crowds that venerate them.
The most astonishing of the two is Sanders. How could a 74-year-old man, out of the blue, become the pied piper of politics?
Trump is more predictable. He’s a showman.
But how does Sanders, a natural rock star deep into old age, suddenly become the zealous leader of a huge national constituency made up in large part of young voters?
For one thing, Sanders is likely to say bluntly what he thinks rather than to merely ape the beliefs of voters like most politicians. This old dude is no flip flopper. He bluntly tells it like it is and that is refreshing, like him or not.
On the other hand, I sometimes see in Sanders a crabby, closed-minded old man. I wouldn’t want to work for a rock star so openly grumpy.
Young voters seem to see Sanders as a frantic old guy who can make them feel warm and safe.
In other words, they see an Uber Grandfather taking on a troubled world.
Contact Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.