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The joy of vax: The people giving the shots are seeing hope, and it's contagious

By Maura Judkis
The joy of vax: The people giving the shots are seeing hope, and it's contagious
Staff Sgt. Lindsey Campbell, a medic with the Maryland National Guard, administers coronavirus vaccines in the parking lot of a Six Flags amusement park. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary

The happiest place in medicine right now is a basketball arena in New Mexico. Or maybe it's the parking lot of a baseball stadium in Los Angeles, or a Six Flags in Maryland, or a shopping mall in South Dakota.

The happiest place in medicine is anywhere there is vaccine, and the happiest people in medicine are the ones plunging it into the arms of strangers.

"It's a joy to all of us," says Akosua "Nana" Poku, a Kaiser Permanente nurse vaccinating people in Northern Virginia.

"I don't think I've ever had an experience in my career that has felt so promising and so fulfilling," says Christina O'Connell, a clinic director at the University of New Mexico.

"There's so many tears" - of joy, not sadness - "that it's almost normal at this point," says Justin Ellis, CVS pharmacist in Laveen, Ariz.

For health-care workers, the opportunity to administer the vaccine has become its own reward: Giving hope to others has given them hope, too. In some clinics, so many nurses have volunteered for vaccine duty that they can't accommodate them all.

Many of those same health-care workers spent last year sticking swabs up the noses of people who thought they might have covid-19. The work was risky. The patients were scared. There was never relief, just limbo. The arrival of The Shot has transformed the grim pop-up clinics of the pandemic into gratitude factories - reassembly lines where Americans could begin to put back together their busted psyches.

"I will never forget the face of the first person I vaccinated," says Ebram Botros, a CVS pharmacy manager in Whitehall, Ohio. It was an 80-year-old man who said that he hadn't seen his children or grandchildren since March.

Botros's pharmacy is in a diverse community outside of Columbus. As an African American who immigrated to the United States from Egypt, Botros feels a special responsibility to reassure Black patients who may be vaccine-averse from a historical legacy of medical abuse to get the shot. One 89-year-old Black woman told Botros she had never gotten a shot before in her life.

"I explained to her, 'This is very important. It's painless, and it's going to help you have your life back to normal,'" he says. Her grandson later reached out to Botros to thank him personally - and told him that the woman called all of her friends and urged them to get their shots, too.

Corie Robinson, a Kaiser nurse in Washington, D.C., has been vaccinating a younger crowd of firefighters, police officers and fellow medical professionals, as well as the elderly. She was selected to give the ceremonial first vaccines on camera at a Dec. 17 news conference.

"The lights were a little nerve-racking," she says, but "it was nice to vaccinate my friends." Now, sometimes people request her as their vaccinator because they saw her on the news.

The positivity has buoyed her spirits. "You can see their smiles through their masks," she says of her patients. One elderly gentleman sang while he got his shot. Others request pamphlets about the vaccine because they want to put them in time capsules. One man told Robinson he was making history twice - he had been among the first children in America to receive the polio vaccine.

"I say quite often, this is probably the most important thing I'll ever do in my career," says Robinson. "Sometimes it's a little overwhelming because you're like, 'Wow, I'm the keeper.' "

Patients pulling up to Lindsey Campbell's vaccine station are sometimes surprised to see that their shot will be administered by a woman in Army camo.

"I've definitely got a couple of like, 'Are you qualified to do this?' kind of questions," says Campbell, a staff sergeant with the Maryland National Guard. One man "asked me what my normal Army job is. And I said, 'Oh, no, I'm a medic.' He's like, 'Oh, I thought you were a cook.'"

Casual sexism aside, Campbell has enjoyed being a vaccinator. She loves it when veterans come through her line. The greatest honor, she says, was vaccinating a 103-year-old man who served in the South Pacific in World War II.

Though there are heaters, the toughest thing about working outdoors is maintaining dexterity in her hands.

"If I felt like my fingers were too cold, I would - I know it's a big no-no for our uniforms, but I would stick my hands in my pockets," she says.

One site where Campbell has been vaccinating people is the parking lot of Six Flags America, with roller coasters in full view of the patients. "That was the first thing that the soldiers were joking about," says Campbell. "'Do we get season passes?' 'Can we go there after work?' "

At the University of New Mexico's basketball arena, Christina O'Connell, clinic director at University of New Mexico Health, has been sinking shots - into muscle tissue. Sometimes there's entertainment for the patients: The team practices while people get vaccinated on the concourse level. Check-in attendants greet people arriving at the arena (known affectionately as "The Pit") for appointments with pompoms and cheers.

"Patients just love it," says O'Connell. "I mean, people miss coming here. This is a big deal in Albuquerque."

O'Connell recalls vaccinating a man who lost his mother to covid the night before and still showed up for his appointment, which made all the nurses cry. She also remembers a husband and wife who showed up in matching homemade vaccine T-shirts - crossed syringes and the phrase "two and done" - to get their final dose.

Once they were done, "This couple was like, 'OK, we're going to go have a margarita now,'" she says. Everybody cheered. Swish.

When Gladis Castro reports for a vaccination shift at Dodger Stadium, one of the biggest distribution sites in the country, she checks in at 6:30 a.m. and begins to fill her cart with supplies - alcohol, gauze, a sharps container, and coolers of vaccine. Then she and a small team wheel it out to their spot in the parking lot, and a long line of cars begins to wind its way toward her - their occupants' windows rolled down and sleeves rolled up.

Administering the vaccine through a car window is "a little tricky sometimes, especially when you have these tiny little old ladies," says Castro. The interactions are often cordial - she often strikes up conversation with patients about their tattoos - but necessarily brief. The goal is volume.

"I think I've done 480-something" shots in a single day, she says. "I've lost count."

When people get emotional, "you do want to be the one to comfort them. But you also have a little time crunch," says Castro. "You need to go to the next car."

When Justin Ellis, a CVS pharmacy manager in Laveen, Ariz., administers vaccines, he's the one on wheels. Ellis brings needles and vials stored in dry ice to assisted-living and nursing homes in the Phoenix area in his roving vaccination clinic.

He also brings the party.

"I crank up the music and we kind of jam," he says. "Their spirits are high. So it's very exciting for me to see 70-, 80-year-old, 90-year-old people just really living their best life."

Ellis says he has vaccinated at least nine people who are older than 100. They tell them all about their grandchildren. Sometimes, he even helps set up a FaceTime connection so the family can witness the jab.

These ersatz social events are awash in positive vibes, but they also make deprivations of the past year stark. Ellis sees the toll that isolation and loneliness has taken on the elderly residents.

"A lot of them, they haven't been outside for a while," he says.

"The emotional time is when I see a husband and a wife receive the vaccine together at the same time, and they're grandparents, and they're just so excited to see their grandchildren," says Poku, the Northern Virginia nurse. They ask her to take photos, and sometimes, to be in the photo, too. "I guess I'm making history with them."

Perhaps the only thing better than administering the vaccine to strangers, of course, would be jabbing friends and family.

Castro's parents and loved ones are still waiting for theirs. She says friends have asked her to help them jump the line, and she has to decline. "It gets a little challenging," Castro says, "having to tell your close ones, like, 'I'm sorry, like, you have to wait.' "

Sometimes, though, a government vaccination plan aligns with a higher design. When Brady Stephens was given the list of Arizona nursing homes where he would be vaccinating residents, one name stood out: Friendship Village, where his wife's grandmother, Pat, lives.

Stephens, a CVS pharmacist in Tempe, kept it a surprise until the day Pat was scheduled to receive her first dose. When he spilled the news, he wasn't sure who was more excited - Pat, or his wife.

"It was just a waterfall of different emotions" for the entire family, he says. "Mainly tears of happiness."

Vaccinating Pat clarified something Stephens already knew: Every person he vaccinates is someone else's Pat.

"All of these residents that we're interacting with have at least one loved one or friend or family member that is going to be going through those same emotions," he says. "It's very, very humbling."

She sued her enslaver for reparations and won. Her descendants never knew.

By Sydney Trent
She sued her enslaver for reparations and won. Her descendants never knew.
Danielle Blackman, a descendant of Henrietta Wood, holds a photo of Arthur Simms Jr and his sister Neata, Wood's grandchildren. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Julie Bennett.

Not long after his mother died on an October day in 2003, David Blackman journeyed with his teenage daughter from Pensacola, Fla., to the narrow two-story brick house in Southside Chicago, where he had lived as a boy.

Mary Blackman's home had once throbbed with life - the notes as she played the piano ringing through the rooms, the smell of biscuits and fudge filling the air and, not infrequently, the stern thunder of Mary's voice as she kept her six children in line.

Now the house was eerily quiet, jammed with furniture, stacks of papers and puzzles, dusty knickknacks. As David sifted through items on an old wooden sideboard in Mary's dining room, a sheaf of papers caught his eye. He picked them up and scanned them: They were photocopies of a one-page contract written in a very old-fashioned, angular black script. David had difficulty making out what it said, let alone its import, but two words stood out: "Henrietta Wood."

The name appeared in the first line and again at the bottom of the page, accompanied underneath by a large slanted "X." Above the name and signature of the illiterate Wood, David could make out part of another signature, "Brandon," and then a date: 7 January 1866.

Before returning to Florida, he and Danielle packed up the document as well as Mary's old family photographs.

He and Danielle tried for months to decipher the handwriting in the contract, but even as they were able to come up with a rough transcription, its existence mystified them. Who was this Wood, whose name had no echoes in their family, and why did Mary Blackman care?

Yet life soon washed over them. David had retired after a long career in the Air Force and a stint as a postal worker to care for Danielle alone when his second wife died of cancer. Then, in college, Danielle was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder. Father and daughter became consumed by her illness and the legal fight to secure her disability benefits. Family history would need to wait.

Years would pass before David would learn about the indomitable woman who would turn out to be his great-great-grandmother. After the Civil War, Henrietta Wood sued for reparations for her enslavement, becoming the recipient of the largest known sum paid out in restitution for slavery by the U.S. courts.

Her case has fresh resonance in 2021, as Congress debates forming a commission to examine the nation's support for slavery, and the brutal racial oppression that followed,and propose reparations for its enduring consequences.

In 1870, Wood's reparations lawsuit was "about more than Wood alone," wrote Rice University professor W. Caleb McDaniel in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the case, "Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution." "It was about what former slaves were owed . . . as well about the real differences restitution could make."

Wood's audacious quest for justice and the resulting victory, her great-great-grandson would later conclude, had left a lasting mark on her descendants - no matter that they did not know it.

Wood was born into slavery in the early 19th century on a Kentucky farm owned by a man named Moses Tousey, McDaniel writes. After Tousey died, the teenage Wood was purchased in 1834 for $700 by Henry Forsyth, a Louisville merchant whom she would later describe to a reporter as "a pretty mean man" who beat her frequently. She cooked, scrubbed and did the laundry.

A few years later, Wood was sold to another Louisville merchant, William Cirode, again as a domestic servant. Cirode moved with his family to New Orleans, but plagued by debts and legal troubles,Cirode fled back to his native France around 1844, leaving Wood and his other enslaved people with his wife. Jane Cirode relocated to Cincinnati while renting Wood out as domestic labor in Louisville.

Possibly to evade her husband's creditors, Cirode eventually brought Wood to Cincinnati and legally freed her in 1848. Wood was able to earn wages as a maid, an experience she would later refer to as "a sweet taste of liberty."

It didn't last.

- - -

Jane Cirode's daughter and son-in-law, Josephine and Robert White, had been disgruntled by her decision to free what they viewed as their human inheritance. In 1853, after Jane had died, they schemed with Wood's then-employer to coax Wood into accompanying her on an carriage ride to nearby Covington, Ky.

When they arrived on the other side of the river, three men, among them a deputy sheriff in Covington named Zebulon Ward, ordered Wood to get out of the carriage.

"Now don't run or I'll shoot you," Wood recalled one of the men saying.

"I've got nothing to run for," said Wood, at which point one of the men commented, "She talks mighty big, don't she?"

Wood - a large woman who was close to six feet tall and as "strong as most men," according to her self-description - had been more vulnerable than perhaps she realized.

Although Ohio had outlawed slavery in 1802, it was a perilous place to be a free Black person. Even after the birth of the abolitionist movement, many White southern Ohioans in particular sympathized with enslavers and were eager to maintain peace with neighboring Kentucky. Black people were kidnapped back into slavery with little outcry, and the situation only worsened after 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

As Wood awaited her fate in a fourth-story bedroom in a Boone County, Ky., inn, a young White man, perhaps the innkeeper's son, entered the room and began to query Wood, and she decided to share her story. The kidnappers soon moved Wood to a slave pen in Lexington, where she languished for a year.

"The sun never shined on me all that time - never once," Wood later told a reporter.

Eventually, the man at the inn helped her press her case in court that she had been abducted. Wood was not allowed to testify on her own behalf, and Ward maintained that she was still enslaved when he purchased her. Her freedom papers had been lost in a Cincinnati courthouse fire in 1849. The case was eventually dismissed, and Wood became the legal property of a White man once again.

Ward took her to Natchez, Miss., and put her up for sale at a notorious slave market known as Forks of the Road. There, Gerard Brandon, a rich plantation owner, bought Wood and put her to work in the cotton fields.

"I sowed the cotton, hoed the cotton and picked the cotton," she said. "I worked under the meanest overseers, and got flogged and flogged until I thought I should die."

During that time, Wood gave birth to her son, Arthur.

After Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Brandon force-marched Wood and hundreds of other people he enslaved 400 miles to Texas, just days before the Union Army arrived to Natchez to free thousands of enslaved people.

Wood remained enslaved even after "Juneteenth," - June 19, 1865 - when Union soldiers arrived to Texas to enforce emancipation. She did not gain her freedom until 1866, when she signed a contract with Brandon to become the family's domestic servant back in Mississippi. She later told a reporter that she was never paid the $10 a month she was owed.

Wood eventually returned to Cincinnati with the son she had managed to keep by her side. Once again, she shared her story, this time as part of a lawsuit filed in federal court in 1870.

In her unprecedented legal claim, Wood demanded the kidnappers' ringleader, Ward, the deputy sheriff who by then had become wealthy through convict leasing, pay her $20,000 in reparations.

- - -

Wood's case suffered a setback when her lawyer was killed in 1874, but in 1878 a jury decreed that Ward owed her $2,500 - roughly $65,000 in today's dollars - for lost wages and freedom. It was a fraction of what she had sought but still offered her a measure of financial stability in 1879, the year Ward paid up.

Wood's suit received ample media attention at the time. Echoing Ward'slawyer, critics asserted even then that the claim was too far removed from slavery. Wood's sympathizers were appalled that she had received so little for her suffering.

Yet by the time Wood died in 1912, the case was lost to history, gathering dust in an archive somewhere, until almost 150 years later when McDaniel stumbled upon it.

In 2014, McDaniel was researching a book about enslaved people who had been forcibly brought to Texas during the Civil War. He mentioned to a colleague at a conference how challenging it was to find stories of individual "refugeed" slaves. A few days later, the colleague wrote to McDaniel.

"You should take a look at this," he said. He attached a copy of an 1879 story in the Ripley Bee based on interviews between Wood and an unnamed writer.

McDaniel soon discovered an even earlier article about Wood in the Cincinnati Commercial. It was written by Lafcadio Hearn, a scrappy young reporter of Greek-Irish descent with a blind left eye and an ear for the offbeat. (Later he would move to Japan as a correspondent and become a celebrated writer as a Japanese citizen with a new name, Koizumi Yakumo.)

Wood had been embroiled in litigation with Ward for six years with no end in sight when in 1876 Hearn first encountered her, by then apparently in her late 50s, living in a "quaint little frame building" near the Ohio River.

Hearn, a White man who had at one point been married to a former enslaved woman, listened as Wood shared her story of slavery and freedom, slavery and freedom.

Then in the fall of 2015, after a despairing search by McDaniel, the director of the National Archives branch in Chicago finally turned up a weathered file bearing Wood's Ohio federal court case number, 1431.

"I knew this was the story that needed my attention," McDaniel, now 41, said, given the debate that had begun roiling the country about whether to pay reparations to the descendants of the enslaved.

He found a 1948 article in the Chicago Tribune about Wood's son, Arthur Simms, who had had a long career as a lawyer in the city before dying in 1951 at age 95.

McDaniel began to look for Wood's descendants, running into a wall of obituaries before he came upon Winona Adkins, Simms's great-granddaughter and a computer systems administrator in Oakland, Calif.

When the professor finally reached Adkins in early 2016, the two corresponded by email for months before McDaniel flew out to Oakland to pore over old family photographs with Adkins, then in her early 70s, and her husband, Bill Spight.

Adkins shared with McDaniel memories of living with her great-grandfather in his tall, rectangular brick house on South Wabash Avenue in Chicago. Simms had been a formal, rather taciturn man who dressed in a three-piece suit long after retiring and preached discipline, she said. He also took no guff, at one point, according to family lore, allowing one of his grandsons to fester in jail to teach him a lesson instead of bailing him out.

Yet Adkins had no idea Simms had been born into slavery. Perhaps he was ashamed or the memories were too traumatic; perhaps he had been too bent on making a livelihood.

McDaniel was awestruck by their conversation. "Winona was maybe 6 or 7 when Arthur Simms died, just one generation removed," he said. "It's an indication of how close in time this history is to all of us."

- - -

In 2018, David Blackman was still living with his daughter Danielle in Pensacola. Danielle had won her disability case, and now he had the time to explore his family's history.

He called his first cousin Winona Adkins, whose mother had been a librarian, figuring she would have family photographs to share. Spight answered the phone and told David that his wife had died earlier that year of pancreatic cancer. Then he told David something else: Adkins had been in touch with a historian who was writing a book about Henrietta Wood. David instantly thought of the name on the 1866 contract and emailed a photo of it to McDaniel.

McDaniel had not seen the contract before and rushed to incorporate it in his book. For his part, David's mind reeled as he learned Wood's life story.

Suddenly, the little David knew about his family's history began to make deeper sense.

"Whether we realize it or not, every little decision our ancestors made charted a path for us as their descendants," said Nick Sheedy, lead genealogist on the PBS series "Finding Your Roots." "And the decisions we make today affect the people who come after us. History isn't some static set of facts . . . We are connected to history today."

The great-grandfather David had known simply as a lawyer was the first African American to graduate from what is now Northwestern University's law school in 1889. David can't think of anyone in the family who hasn't gone to college. The family is full of professionals, in medicine, law, social work, information technology, school administration.

After Simms bought the house on South Wabash Avenue, he purchased two more. Where did the money for his tuition and home down payment come from? McDaniel surmised the seed money for Simms's prosperity came from the restitution Henrietta Wood had won in court.

Then there was the violin that Simms had bought for his son, Arthur Jr., and the music lessons that came with it, symbols of the elder Arthur's ascent into the middle class. Arthur Jr.'s children and their children, too, would all take up instruments, with one of David's uncles, William Adkins, making his career as a jazz saxophonist who toured and recorded with Count Basie. David plays the guitar; Winona loved the piano.

Wood's descendants shared a sense of thrift, self-discipline and the belief that hard work would eventually bring reward. These qualities had been embodied in David's mother, Mary Blackman, the daughter of Simms's daughter, Neata.

Mary, who worked for the Chicago Housing Authority, was an accomplished pianist and violinist who sang in the choir at church. On Sunday mornings, she would make delectably flaky biscuits, and David's friends would come to services with the family just to get a taste. David remembers Mary's close attention to her children as a single mother, especially when they misbehaved. Like Simms Sr., she took no guff.

"You didn't mess with her if you wanted to keep your scalp," said David, now a bespectacled 69-year-old with a full gray beard.

Mary's children were expected to work, and as a teen, David got a job at the public library. "We were a 'be all you can be' family," he said.

The job kept him out of trouble as the character of the Southside neighborhood where Mary had bought a house in the late 1950s began to change. Even as he plotted his comings and goings to avoid rival gangs, David said his life at home with Mary and his siblings remained a rock.

"We were doing better than everyone around us," David said. "When I look back now, I think that was part of the legacy. If Henrietta Wood hadn't sued for what they did to her," if she hadn't been the kind of person to sue, he said, "things probably would have turned out very differently."

After Mary's children were grown, she earned her undergraduate degree and then a master's degree from Chicago State University. On graduation day in 1981, Mary posed for a photograph in her cap and gown with David, who had just earned his undergraduate degree that day after serving in the Vietnam War. Mary's sister, Thyrza, also received her diploma on the same day.

Danielle Blackman grew up looking at that photograph in their Pensacola home. "There wasn't a point in my life where I thought about not going to college," Danielle, 34, said. "When you see a picture like that, there's just no excuse, is there?"

Like her father, Danielle devoured McDaniel's book. She was struck by Wood's moxie in pursuing her claim, unbroken and unbowed. She imagines her great-great-grandfather's legal career may have been inspired by the lawsuit his mother won just as he entered manhood.

The family's financial acumen, which emphasized taking care of essentials and savings before buying luxuries, flew in the face of the "disposable essence" of American culture, she said. Her grandmother Mary was loath to throw away anything that had some use left. She taught Danielle how to make and do things for herself, hovering as Danielle practiced how to sew on a button. While far from wealthy, "my family didn't squander what they had."

Wood's descendants, Danielle said, weathered the racial discrimination they encountered with a steely resolve that "we were going to find a way or invent a way to make it work, even if we had to wait it out."

What might she say to her great-great-great-grandmother, who had waited 26 long years to receive a measure of justice, if she were alive today?

"I would tell her," she said, "it was worth it."

- - -

The Washington Post's Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Barbie's pandemic sales boom follows long revamp at Mattel

By Kelly Gilblom
Barbie's pandemic sales boom follows long revamp at Mattel
Mattel Inc. Barbie brand dolls in an arranged photograph on April 16, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker.

One of the biggest consumer hits of the pandemic, alongside Netflix and the Nintendo Switch, is a 61-year-old doll once mocked as outdated and sexist.

Long written off by many parents and kids -- and criticized for promoting an unrealistic body image -- Mattel Inc.'s Barbie generated its best sales growth in two decades in 2020. Years of planning and a bit of luck have turned the baby boomer of toys into a go-to item for millions of kids.

The result: Barbie and Mattel have turned a corner, with Wall Street projecting years of growth for the toymaker. And the company's shares are up more than 50% in the past year. Citigroup analyst Shawn Collins gave the stock an additional vote of confidence Wednesday, raising his recommendation to a buy from neutral.

Barbie still carries plenty of baggage for promoting a largely White, gendered image of beauty. But her reputation is changing. In October, a YouTube video of a digital Barbie and friend discussing racial justice went viral and was held up as an example of inclusion. Management will discuss its plans for Barbie and the company in a meeting Wednesday with investors and analysts.

In an interview, Chief Executive Officer Ynon Kreiz gave some of the credit to Walt Disney Co., which ironically dumped Mattel as a doll licensee a few years ago and awarded the business to Hasbro Inc.

"The preeminent company, and a great reference, is Disney," Kreiz said. "And more specifically, what they've done with Marvel. This is the long-term vision."

Like many companies, Disney and Mattel have revamped their products to reflect the times -- emphasizing racial equality and diversity. For Marvel, that's meant new types of superheroes and stories. For Barbie: more dolls for people of color and more realistic body types. The coronavirus didn't hurt either. Families on the hunt for ways to distract their bored children turned to streaming, video games and classic toys like dolls.

Just a few years ago, Barbie's future was in doubt. Sales were declining and the company, which had long dominated the U.S. doll market, was losing ground to competitors. Kids didn't view the toymaker's flagship product as an aspirational role model, and Mattel President Richard Dickson knew it.

"They thought that she was vapid, not really representing what was culture," Dickson said in an interview. "She didn't aesthetically look like the world that we live in. And the results, frankly, were quite shocking and depressing."

The transformation, which the company plans to highlight Wednesday, was no accident. Propelled by Kreiz, who took the reins of the El Segundo, California-based toymaker in April 2018, Mattel dedicated itself to becoming something new. The staid business of incrementally improving a toy each year gave way to the notion that products should rise to the top of conversations around pop culture. And the savvier that Mattel could be at drawing positive attention, the better sales would be.

A film and television veteran who did stints with Fox Kids, Maker Studios and Endemol, Kreiz was used to having a few well-known brands to build on. As CEO of Mattel, he was sitting on a goldmine that hadn't been fully exploited -- from Uno card games and Fisher-Price toddler toys to American Girl dolls and Hot Wheels cars.

"There's so much good content," said Jackie Breyer, editorial director of Toy Insider. "Reintroducing some of their really strong intellectual property makes sense. It's really a big trend."

A key part of that transformation happened behind the scenes. Kreiz eliminated much of the company's manufacturing capacity, formed a film department and enlisted social media influencers.

Since 2018, he has signed agreements with studios, including Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures, to make 11 different feature films based on Mattel brands, even extremely old-school ones like View-Master -- the red stereoscopes that kids use to look at slideshows. Mattel is also active in TV, with more than 17 shows and specials in production, and more than 25 in development.

One feature in development: a Barbie movie with Warner Bros., written and directed by Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig and set to star Margot Robbie.

The covid-19 pandemic has complicated production, and it's not clear when any of Mattel's feature films will actually start shooting. Kreiz isn't able to provide details, other than to say none will be released in 2021.

Still, Dickson and brand manager Lisa McKnight have laid the groundwork for Barbie to succeed with or without Hollywood. They've embarked on perhaps the product's biggest diversity push since 1980, when Mattel introduced the first Black Barbie.

Barbie's more inclusive dolls, led by its "Fashionista" brand, now come in 22 skin tones, 94 hair colors, 13 eye colors and five body types. Little girls can get dolls with prosthetic legs or wheelchairs. Ken dolls have a broader array of body types and hairstyles, including man buns. Mattel also rolls out dolls for different occasions: A Maya Angelou that came out just before Black History Month sold out in two days.

Overall Mattel's best-performing models are the inclusive ones, the company said. No. 1 in 2020 came with a wheelchair.

Barbie's "look" has long been criticized as unhealthy for young girls. Studies have tried to suss out whether it can lead to depression or eating disorders. In one assessment, researchers said a real women with the old Barbie's proportions would have room for half a liver, justs a few inches of intestine and be unable to lift her head.

Dickson is hyper-aware that delving into these areas can be risky. Mattel tripped up in 2003, when the company introduced multiracial "Flava" dolls to compete with MGA Entertainment and that company's popular Bratz for preteens. The line, which included accessories like a graffiti-covered brick wall and a boom box, was assailed for promoting harmful stereotypes. The dolls were discontinued within a year.

Efforts to take Barbie to a wider audience are now more thoughtful, Dickson said. Mattel has a "consumer insight organization" led by Ph.D.s in child development, as well as advisory boards that try to head off missteps before they happen.

"Barbie always performs best when she's connected to culture," Dickson said. "And 2020 obviously provided considerable opportunities to do so."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

In defense of (good) partisanship

By e.j. dionne jr.
In defense of (good) partisanship


Advance for release Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- If we want our democratic system to work well again, we need to put aside lazy intellectual habits that misdiagnose the problems we face. Few mistakes are more destructive to the right ordering of American politics than misunderstandings of "partisanship."

What we get wrong is casting all forms of partisanship as destructive.

In fact, political parties and a reasoned loyalty to them are essential to the functioning of a democratic system. At their best, parties organize conflict and channel it down constructive paths. In any healthy society, people will disagree about what they value most - think, for starters, about relative priority of liberty, equality and community. Even when they agree on values, citizens will differ over which policies will best advance them.

As I have occasionally written to readers exercising their right to complain about my views, disagreement is one of the joys of freedom.

In her book "On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship," the political philosopher Nancy L. Rosenblum notes that partisans accept "pluralism and political conflict" as a positive good. Partisans, she writes, "see themselves as firmly on the side of the angels," but acknowledge their partiality. This encourages them to embrace both "political self- restraint" and "mental and emotional discipline."

And that gets at our problem now - not partisanship as such, but a flight from those disciplines. And while you are free to accuse me of partisanship, I'd insist that what is happening in the Republican Party is objectively a grave threat to the proper functioning of the party system.

Functional partisanship demands, at the bare minimum, commitments to abide by the results of free elections, to tell the truth about those elections, and to offer all citizens equal opportunities to participate in the electoral process.

Large sections of the Republican Party, led by former president Donald Trump, are failing on all three. Trump and a majority of self-identified members of his party - have still not accepted President Joe Biden's election. At least as bad is the refusal by a large number of Republicans still serving in government to say the simple words: Biden won fair and square.

The shameful squirming of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday was just the latest example of a Trump supporter refusing to repudiate his Big Lie.

The best Scalise could do was to say of Biden that "once the electors are counted, yes, he's the legitimate president." Scalise then flipped into a lot of folderol about doubts about the election, including the assertion that "there are people concerned about what the next election is going to look like. Are we going to finally get back to the way the rule of law works?"

Scalise's "get back to" stuff is double talk to rationalize the efforts of Republicans in Georgia and elsewhere to roll back advances during the pandemic that made it easier for Americans to vote. Some of the GOP moves (such as getting rid of Sunday voting) are designed specifically to disempower Black voters.

Stopping these attacks on participation will require action by Congress through the provisions of the democracy reform bill the House is expected to pass soon, and a renewal of the Voting Rights Act gutted by Supreme Court conservatives.

Voting rights were once a cross-party cause, but no longer. Yet if basic constitutional guarantees can only pass by a "partisan" vote (and by pushing back against the filibuster), are we supposed to abandon them because they fail to meet some "bipartisan" golden mean?

Of course not, and former Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., explains why. "The unity America needs is not between two parties but among all of those who are committed to inclusive democracy governed by the Constitution, fair elections, and the rule of law," he writes in Democracy (a journal with which I have a long association). "Ironically today, these values are considered universal but not bipartisan."

The best kind of partisanship, based on those universal values, promotes fierce but constructive arguments. It acknowledges that in a good society, most political differences involve not a choice between good versus evil, but among competing goods - efficiency, security, entrepreneurship, fairness, individualism and solidarity, to name a few. Compromise (along with, yes, bipartisanship) is easier when we're honest about the trade-offs we're making.

But that brand of small-D Democratic partisanship requires agreement on certain fundamentals, not the least being a shared commitment to truth and a willingness to let the voters decide - all the voters, not an electorate rigged through voter suppression.

So our fight should not be against partisanship. It should be in favor of rehabilitating the vibrant and honest partisanship on which democracy depends.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

The looming disasters we don't prepare for

By megan mcardle
The looming disasters we don't prepare for


Advance for release Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- After every crisis, there comes a moment of dazzling hindsight. We look back at the Before Time and list the things that should have been done differently. There's always something, and usually more than one something, many of them even plausible.

One wonders if, say, the worst of the global financial crisis might have been averted if U.S. and European regulators had required financial institutions to hold more assets in reserve . . . or about all sorts of points where the pandemic might have gone very differently . . . or how Texas might have fared the past two weeks if power companies had invested in the kind of de-icing equipment used in Minnesota, or if the state had just been plugged into an interstate grid.

But wondering is easy. So is spinning counterfactuals when you already know which unlikely disaster befell you.

The hard part is deciding which unlikelihoods to prepare for out of a universe of improbable possibilities. And then comes the still-harder part: persuading your fellow citizens to pay for those preparations. If global policy on climate change is any reflection of people's desires - and it is - then the human race is unwilling to spend much of anything to prevent even a near-certain threat to its well-being.

Certainly we should be spending a lot more on such prevention, for the same reason prudent people buy hefty insurance policies - in case our cars crash, our spouses die or our houses burn down. We are the richest generation in history, and we should divert a little of our wealth into making sure the species isn't wiped out by things that have wiped out species in the past, whether it be climate change or asteroids or supervolcanoes. And to ensure that all manner of critical infrastructure - power grids, health-care systems, supply chains - is more robust to more ordinary shocks.

But to do that, we're going to have to agree to spend money - and quite a bit of it. As both voters and individuals, we must make it clear to CEOs and politicians that we're willing to pay extra for reliability insurance. And up until now, we've done the opposite, demanding the lowest price right now.

What's that, you say? The people you know love government-provided insurance? Yes, but what they like is social insurance, which isn't really insurance; it's a system of transfers to cover near-universal risks such as illness, aging and unemployment. Politicians spend a lot of time debating how much of that kind of insurance to provide and almost no time talking about true insurance, or insurance against rare risks - the sort that may never happen but will be devastating if they do.

There's no ideological gap on true insurance: Everyone does too little. Left-wing European governments were caught just as flat-footed as we were by the financial crisis and the pandemic because they, like us, were paying more attention to other things. And while a Texas run by progressive Democrats might have better integrated the state with other power grids, or kept electricity prices more tightly regulated, regulators would have faced the same trade-off as deregulated utilities: lower prices for consumers now, or invest in hardening the system against rare events such as single-digit weather on the U.S. southern border?

Political incentives being what they are, I'm skeptical that regulators would have done much differently. And before you say that is obviously wrong, ask yourself what other rare events we ought to be preparing for and how much you're willing to spend to abate them. If you stop with the disaster you happen to know about, you're no wiser than the people you think failed.

Yet that is where we usually stop. Texans will no doubt demand that their politicians spend the next few years hardening the state's electrical grid against a recurrence of recent travails, much as the federal government will surely assemble a massive stockpile of N95 masks and hand sanitizer. And if the Yellowstone supervolcano ever explodes, the ash-strewn survivors will undoubtedly gather around their campfires and agree that America should have invested more in geothermal preparedness. But precious few of them will have been among the oddballs who want the United States to invest now in defusing supervolcanoes, diverting asteroids or otherwise guarding against the inevitable disasters that currently seem most unlikely.

We can do better than that, but only if we spend less time on recriminations, or refighting the last war, and more on the unknown future. We should be demanding a Rare Disaster Czar, instead of waiting for more 9/11 Commissions. It's satisfying to blame others for failing to anticipate whatever we can now see clearly in the rearview mirror, but it's far more important to worry about the road ahead and the dangers that haven't yet come into view.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

Ron Johnson's wonderful day at the Capitol with the (mostly) jovial crowd

By alexandra petri
Ron Johnson's wonderful day at the Capitol with the (mostly) jovial crowd


Advance for release Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, and thereafter

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Alexandra Petri

(BEG ITAL)"Not one appeared angry. . . . Many of the marchers were families with small children. Many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail, traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone. Many wore pro-police shirts or carried pro-police black-and-blue flags. . . . A very few didn't share the jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority. Some obviously didn't fit in - plainclothes militants, agents provocateurs, fake Trump protesters and then a disciplined uniformed column of attackers - the people that probably planned this."

- Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., reading excerpts from a piece titled "I Saw Provocateurs at the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6" into the record at Tuesday's Senate hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol(END ITAL)

WASHINGON -- It was a wonderful day at the Capitol! The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the large, jovial crowd was dressed in their very best, most jovial, most pro-police attire. Some carried flags. Some carried signs! It was beautiful!

They were at the Capitol because they were feeling very jovial and friendly about the result of the election. They wanted to overturn it, very gently, like you might overturn a Jell-O mold and then tap on it, very gently, until it came out just the way you wanted.

Some of them had even brought baseball bats, just in case anyone wanted to play baseball later, and pepper spray, in case anyone needed a snack.They also brought and erected a small rope swing, although it was not a very good or convincing rope swing and looked more like something else. But some people brought pyrotechnics, which were very convincing! It was a jovial, friendly, earnest bunch.

You had never seen a more convivial crowd. Everyone was jovially smiling and laughing. Sometimes they laughed so loudly and with so much joviality in their voices that it sounded as though they were chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" But if so, they were chanting it in a loving, jovial way that gladdened the heart of all who heard it.

Well, almost everyone who heard it. Some obviously didn't fit in.

Some people were not so jovial. Some people were not there for the right reasons. They were there to make mischief, unlike the happy, wonderful, friendly crowd who just wanted to casually tip one or two barricades as though they were excellent waiters, and perhaps break some glass, as you do in moments of celebration, and possibly write some loving messages on the desks of senators they particularly admired (although the messages mostly turned out very, very, very, very, very misspelled so that their original meaning was lost).

These other people were agents provocateurs and villains, which they demonstrated by chanting the exact same things that the rest of the crowd was chanting and breaking into the exact same places that the rest of the crowd broke into. But when they chanted "Hang Mike Pence," they meant it in a bad way, unlike the rest of the crowd, which was being jovial.

It was these bad seeds, so cunningly hidden in the crowd as to be scarcely detectable, who were responsible for all the bad things that happened!

But also: What bad things?

Mostly it was a wonderful day at the Capitol for everyone there. Some people walked through a hallway and made loud noises to show how jovial they were! Some people brought some old-timey flags to the Capitol to show how much they appreciated their history. Some people called out "Nancy!" in the hope that they could get the House speaker to come join in the good, funny times with them.

Nothing could have been less frightening, really, and it's your own fault if you can't take a joke! It's your fault if you see the people who were beaten and crushed and hurt and scared and killed and you think it might not have been quite such a jovial day at the Capitol. You are not looking at it the right way. All you have to do is give yourself over to baseless conspiracies and it can have been a wonderful day for you, too!

- - -

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

Tax Season 2021: Your tax and stimulus payment questions and more answered

By michelle singletary
Tax Season 2021: Your tax and stimulus payment questions and more answered


Advance for release Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

WRITETHRU: In 8th graf, 1st sentence, changes to "criterion"'; and in 7th graf from the end, changes to: "above the line" deduction (sted credit)


WASHINGTON -- Even in a normal tax season, the IRS struggles to answer people's questions about their returns. This year, that outreach effort is complicated by the coronavirus.

The problem is twofold. The federal taxing authority is grappling with a tricky tax year, one filled with virus-related provisions enacted by Congress to boost the economy. On top of that, the pandemic has strained the agency's resources. Taxpayers are finding it harder than ever to reach the agency to find out what they can and cannot do.

Although tax professionals and do-it-yourself preparation software can help walk people through their federal returns, the 2021 tax season nonetheless has folks perplexed. Are stimulus payments taxable income? Can my child attending college claim a stimulus-relief credit? Can workers take a home-office deduction now that they are commuting no farther than the kitchen table? You should want to know the answers.

So last week Eric Bronnenkant, head of tax at Betterment, an online financial management company, joined me for an online tax chat. Here are the answers to some questions that kept popping up during the discussion:

(BEG ITAL)I am confused about whether stimulus payments count as income. Will we get a form to report these payments on our tax returns?(END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: This is a common area of confusion, and there is a lot of conflicting information on the Internet. While it is true that there are no free lunches in this world, the stimulus payment does come without any strings attached and, consequently, it is considered nontaxable income.

Singletary: Technically, the stimulus payments were an advance of a credit referred to on Forms 1040 and 1040-SR as the "Recovery Rebate Credit" - on the second page, Line 30. A credit can result in a refund or decrease what you owe the IRS. At you'll find answers to a lot of your questions about the stimulus payments on a "Frequently Asked Questions" page devoted to the stimulus credit.

(BEG ITAL)The first criterion in the worksheet for claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit relates to dependent status. Can I choose not to claim my daughter, who is in college, so she can claim the credit and get a stimulus payment?(END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: If the parent is providing more than 50% of the support of a child who is a student, that child is typically a dependent and would not qualify for a stimulus payment. When you are filing your 2020 tax return, if your daughter is no longer a dependent, she may qualify for a Recovery Rebate Credit for $1,200 and $600 [for the first and second rounds of the stimulus, respectively]. The IRS has a recovery rebate worksheet on Page 58 to help determine eligibility.

(BEG ITAL)Can we claim as a dependent a child of 19 (she was 19 as of Dec. 31) who was living away from home at college during most of 2020? We still provided more than 50% of her support.(END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: The IRS states that children living away from home at school/college are considered to be temporarily absent from home and would still meet the residency test. See IRS Publication 501, Page 12, for more information.

(BEG ITAL)What is the maximum a dependent child can earn to be claimed as a dependent?(END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: There are two classifications of dependents - a "qualifying child" and a "qualifying relative." There is no income test for the qualifying child, but there is a $4,300 income test for a qualifying relative. While a child's summer job earnings typically do not impact their dependency status, parents will no longer be able to claim their child as a dependent once the child provides more than 50 percent of their own support. See IRS Publication 501, Pages 11 and 15, for further explanation.

(BEG ITAL)I tried to e-file but my return was rejected because the IRS hasn't processed my 2019 federal return, which I mailed. The IRS can't verify my adjusted gross income. What can I do?(END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: The IRS has provided a great workaround for this issue through the "Special Instructions to Validate Your 2020 Electronic Tax Return" notice at The IRS says, "If your 2019 tax return has not yet been processed, enter $0 (zero dollars) for your prior year adjusted gross income (AGI). If you used the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool in 2020 to register for an Economic Impact Payment in 2020, enter $1 as your prior year AGI."

(BEG ITAL)How do I handle gig income? I didn't make more than $2,000 per month last year.(END ITAL)

Singletary: I've been getting this question a lot as more people turn to the gig economy to make ends meet. And yes, your gig earnings are taxable, the IRS pointed out last week. By the way, even if you don't receive the typical forms issued when such income is earned - Form 1099-NEC, Form 1099-MISC, Form 1099-K or a W-2 form - the IRS still expects people to report the earnings.

Bronnenkant: Self-employment income (and related expenses) are reported on a Schedule C, which is part of filing a 1040. In addition, you may be eligible for a 20% QBI (qualified business income) deduction.

(BEG ITAL)I am a teacher but I do not itemize deductions. Can I deduct pandemic-related school expenses - such as masks - on my tax return?(END ITAL)

Singletary: Earlier this month, the IRS issued guidance reminding eligible educators that they can deduct unreimbursed expenses for protective items such as masks, disinfectant and hand sanitizer, and tape, paint or chalk to guide social distancing. It's important to note this is an "above the line" deduction, so educators, including counselors or aides working in schools from kindergarten through Grade 12, don't need to itemize to deduct the expenses.

Bronnenkant: The educator expense deduction is up to $250 per educator for unreimbursed expenses, including pandemic expenses. However, most teachers already spend the $250 anyway, so this would probably not provide any additional tax benefit.

(BEG ITAL)How does one determine whether they can take a home office deduction?(END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: Because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017, miscellaneous deductions that were allowed over 2 percent of adjusted gross income were repealed. Deductions that fall into this category are home-office expenses for a W-2 employee, unreimbursed employee expenses and investment advisory fees. While some people have lost deductions because of this change, the doubling of the standard deduction helped offset that loss for many individuals.

(BEG ITAL)Will the $300 charitable deduction for non-itemizers continue for 2021?END ITAL)

Bronnenkant: 2020 was the first year that allowed a $300 deduction for non-itemizers for cash contributions to charity. This will continue for 2021, where single people can claim $300 and married couples can claim $600.

Singletary: I also put the question to the IRS. Although the charitable deduction for 2020 and 2021 was for people who don't itemize their deductions, they differ slightly, according to IRS spokesman Eric Smith. "The 2020 deduction was indeed above the line, that is, an adjustment to income that appears above the AGI line on the return," he said. "The 2021 deduction is below the line. So it still reduces taxable income, but it doesn't reduce adjusted gross income. For most people, this is a distinction without a difference, but for anyone who has something linked to AGI, it does make a difference, even if only a slight one."

- - -

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

The Fed's equity itch

By george f. will
The Fed's equity itch


Advance for release Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, and thereafter

(For Will clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

WRITETHRU - Adds missing quote at top of column; also italicizes words in 5th and 9th grafs

By George F. Will

(BEG ITAL)"The very first requirement in a hospital [is] that it should do the sick no harm." -Florence Nightingale(END ITAL)

WASHINGTON -- When the Federal Reserve was created in 1913, long before it aspired to be a fourth branch of government, its sufficient mission was to preserve the currency as a store of value: Price stability facilitates economic dynamism by giving economic actors a degree of certainty. In 1978, Congress encouraged institutional imperialism in the Fed by mandating that its policies should promote "maximum employment." Ben Bernanke,the Fed chair from 2006 to 2014, construed this as a single capacious mandate for "promoting a healthy economy." If so, the mandate excludes nothing.

Now, it seems, the Fed feels an irresistible itch to participate in every important government policy endeavor. The Fed (and some other central banks and international financial institutions) seems disposed to weigh "climate risk" in its decisions. Which implies that climate change poses a knowable near-term risk to the financial system. This is, to say no more, implausible.

John Cochrane of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University suspects that a climate risk responsibility will encourage banks "to make up numbers in order to justify de-funding politically unpopular fossil fuel projects." This is a dubious undertaking for government, and a weird function for a central bank.

In 2020, Joe Biden said the Fed should "aggressively target persistent racial gaps in jobs, wages and wealth." If so, the Fed's newest mandate is Washington's word du jour, "equity." This word implies, without defining, a social outcome different than - and superior to - the equality affirmed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

The Fed's economists, who had better be polymaths, must now plunge monetary policy and financial regulation into the political and philosophical challenges of pursuing social justice. (Can (BEG ITAL)anyone(END ITAL) explain how the adjective modifies the noun?) First, however, they should read the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's report "Monetary Policy and Racial Inequality." If racial equity means less racial inequality in incomes and wealth, the Fed faces a conundrum: The monetary policy it thinks the nation needs now and for the foreseeable future (the Fed did not foresee 2008 in 2007, or the economy's current strength four months ago) is harmful.

The Fed indicates that, until at least 2023, interest rates will remain near zero. (This is, in Fed-speak, "accommodative monetary policy.") The New York Fed's report says: Very low interest rates increase employment of Black households more than of White households, although "the overall effects are small." Low interest rates, however, substantially exacerbate Black-White wealth differences.

Low rates stimulate the economy, drawing marginal workers into the labor market, and a tight labor market pushes up wages. But low rates also cause money to flow into assets such as stocks and houses in search of higher yields. But "the median black household has no stock holdings, nor owns a house," so "accommodative" policy "bypasses the majority of black households."

Over a five-year period, this policy causes the Black unemployment rate to fall by about 0.2 percentage points more than the White unemployment rate, but the policy increases stock prices by as much as 5% and house prices by 2%. And if it increases inflation, this disproportionately burdens low-income groups that devote larger portions of their incomes to consumption.

In 2019, the median wealth of White households was $184,390, and $20,730 for Black households. This ninefold (BEG ITAL)wealth(END ITAL) disparity dramatically exceeds the 1.7 times larger (BEG ITAL)income(END ITAL) disparity favoring Whites. The stock market boom of the 1990s, the New York Fed's report says, provided a large boost to average White wealth, but a negligible impact on average Black wealth.

White households, with high wealth-to-income ratios (in 2019, they owned 8.6 dollars of wealth per dollar of income; Black households owned 2.5 dollars of wealth per dollar of income), benefit from the asset price increases resulting from accommodative Fed policies. This is the distribution of the gains from accommodative monetary policy: "About 80 percent of all gains accrue to households in the top 5 percent of the wealth distribution and about 50 percent go to the top 1 percent. Notably, this distribution is substantially more unequal than the distribution of wealth itself."

The New York Fed's report says that although "the distributional effects of monetary policy" are "outside central banks' formal mandates, central bankers are increasingly discussing distributional issues." When they are not discussing climate risks, and much else. Including, one hopes, what nurse Nightingale knew.

- - -

George Will's email address is

Rush Limbaugh's legacy? Just like the man, it's complicated.

By ruben navarrette jr.
Rush Limbaugh's legacy? Just like the man, it's complicated.


FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. (Normally would advance for release Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, and thereafter)

(For Navarrette clients)


SAN DIEGO - Haters gonna hate. But, for more than 25 years - as I moved around the country, from California to Arizona to Massachusetts to Texas and back to California - I loved listening to Rush Limbaugh.

For millions of listeners, losing the radio host - who died last week after a yearlong battle with lung cancer - was like losing their best friend.

I won't go that far. We've lost a great talent who was exceptionally good at what he did. We don't have to lose perspective, too.

Although this does seem like a good time to point out that even my actual best friends and I don't agree on everything. I'm old school. Back in the day - before social media taught us to "unfriend" those who think differently - you didn't have to agree with someone to be their friend. Now you do. It's another example of how social media destroyed our social skills.

Limbaugh was not always the best person. He had flaws, weaknesses, biases, prejudices and blind spots like the rest of us. He played favorites, identifying with some groups over others. He pushed the fallacy that White men were being discriminated against; the idea that the radio industry should have more female hosts, producers, and executives was revolutionary to him. When he talked about "real Americans" who built this country, I always got the feeling he meant "White Americans."

He traded in contradictions. He extolled law and order when bashing illegal immigrants, then morphed into a defense lawyer when MAGA supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. He praised assimilation, then published his bestselling children's books about U.S. history (BEG ITAL)in Spanish(END ITAL).

Limbaugh sometimes bent what he believed in; he was a free trading devotee of Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley economics who spent his final years defending a Republican president who used tariffs against China to cozy up to labor unions that usually supported Democrats.

Lucid to the end, he nonetheless forgot where he used to stand. In 1994, he was pro-immigrant and defended his buddies, former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett and the late Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, when fellow Republicans attacked them for opposing California's Proposition 187, which denied services to illegal immigrants. After 2000, he went with the nativist flow, warning that the borders were porous, that new immigrants were inferior to old ones, and that Democrats were supposedly lenient on enforcement.

When Limbaugh talked about economics, government, generations, human nature or the American Dream, he was brilliant. When he turned his attention to race, immigration, diversity or multiculturalism, not so much.

Amassing a fortune estimated at more than $500 million, the college dropout from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, often personified the best of America. Only in America would his story have been fathomable.

During his 50 years on the radio, he found the heartbeat of the country, but he also lost his way. He was a different person in 2021 than he was in 1991, and -- in some respects -- I liked the original version better. The old Rush preached that we shouldn't act like victims; the new Rush encouraged listeners to think of themselves just that way. If you lost your job, and your instinct was to blame a trade deal, an immigrant or a robot, this was the radio show you listened to in order to feel better about yourself.

But, for this journalist, Rush was also my best source. He fed me a daily dose of insight, humor, critical thinking and common sense. He explained a complicated world, and he knew his adversaries in the Democratic Party better than they knew themselves.

One of my editors at a liberal N.Y.-based online publication was mystified. He just didn't get the appeal. He once asked incredulously: "Tell me again, why do you listen to Rush Limbaugh?"

If you have to ask, I'll never be able to explain. Just know this much: There will never be another broadcaster like him. He didn't just win the game. He changed it. As legacies go, that'll work.

By the way, who knew White liberals had so much love in their hearts for people of color? They must. They're all saying Limbaugh was a "racist."

Listen up, Lefties. We see you. We'll be holding you to account. We'll be forcing you to walk it like you talk it, even when it's not convenient.

It's how Rush would have wanted it.

- - -

Navarrette's email address is His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

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