A cynic might call Ed Schultz a left-wing version of Rush Limbaugh. But although elements of the comparison ring true, Schultz's live radio broadcast from the Barrymore Theatre last night showed there are salient, if subtle, differences between the liberal commentator and his Republican counterparts.
The house wasn't quite packed -- about 600 of the 850 seats were full, according to the theater office -- but it felt that way thanks to the boisterous crowd, which was already hooting and clapping during Madison radio host Stu Levitan's warm-up spiel. When "Big Ed" finally strolled onstage to the strains of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine," the audience popped up for the first of what would be a series of standing ovations throughout the two-hour program.
Such ardent displays of fan enthusiasm lend credence to the Limbaugh comparison; it would have been easy to see Schultz as just another provocateur preaching to the choir. However, while the "Tour for Change" show did feature plenty of demogoguery, it distinguished itself by remaining relatively focused on its subject of health-care reform and, while not digging deep into complex matters of policy, offering an overview of what Schultz thinks needs to be done to get the U.S. onto a single-payer system.
"I don't know what to say to those Democrats who say, 'We don't know how to pay for it,'" he said early on. "Well, Big Eddie is here to tell you: Repeal the Bush tax cuts." Doing that, he said, as well as eliminating health-care restrictions based on pre-existing conditions and making public coverage available to everyone in the country would be "a pretty good start."
And in the Q&A session that constituted much of the show's second hour, he got into slightly more technical territory, blasting rising COBRA premiums, decrying Republicans' plan to offer tax cuts in lieu of more affordable health care, and mentioning "date-specific arbitration on the Employee Free Choice Act," a series of syllables at least a couple grade levels higher than typical right-wing talk-show fodder.
As for the GOP, Schultz's contempt for them -- "Bipartisanship, my ass! I didn't vote for you guys. Why the hell would I want to work with you?" -- was exceeded only by his ire for Democrats unwilling to fall into line with their supporters' agenda. "I have no patience for conservative Democrats," he said, describing those who've seemingly forgotten the results of last year's election as having amnesia: "They need some serious health care."
Schultz shared the stage during part of the first hour with Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and later with his radio show's "senior legal analyst," Norman Goldman, to announce the September debut of Goldman's own radio show. He also said that on today's broadcast of "The Ed Show" on MSNBC, he'd ask President Obama to call on members of Congress to work until the current health-care bill is finished, instead of taking their usual August vacation.
"I've seen Ed two other times here," Jim Martino of Madison, who attended with his 16-year-old son Louis, said after the show. "I thought he was more fired up this time, maybe because of the focus on health care. To hell with bipartisanship! We need to push this through, even if the Republicans aren't going to like it."