CityWatch Today: Wichita Lineman’s Politics

EDITOR'S MEMO

 

GUEST WORDS--I've heard people say that Glen Campbell was politically conservative. But in "Wichita Lineman" (written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb) he opens the song by declaring, "I am a lineman for the county." In other words, he's a government employee. The Wichita referred to in the song is in Oklahoma (it was actually Washita, OK, but Webb changed the name in the song).

About an hour after I originally posted this, Len Shindel sent me his 2014 interview with Webb, published in the Electrical Worker, a publication of the Int'l Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Webb explains how he came to write the song. 

 

Back then, rural counties in Oklahoma often had government-owned telephone companies and other public utilities, whose employees were union members. So the protagonist in the song was most likely an IBEW member, which represents utility workers. In the song, he says, "I know I need a small vacation."

Surely he knew that, thanks to his union, he got several weeks of paid vacation. And thanks to his union, the Wichita lineman also had decent pay, health care benefits, and a decent pension.

Remember that the next time you hear the song.

 

(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and a Huff Post and CityWatch contributor. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books)

-cw