07/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Big Ed" Schultz Is Keeping Dem Senators' Feet to The Fire

"Big Ed" Schultz couldn't have come into his own at a better time.

In the past couple of weeks, as soaring public support for single-payer or government-option health legislation has soared and Dems have dithered, the beefy Schultz has kicked his once-sluggish MSNBC show into overdrive. And his national radio show is electrifying in its intensity most days lately.

Big Ed's moved from being a publicity-hungry blowhard (remember "John McCain is a warmonger" last fall?) to expressing daily the kind of much-needed real passion for this critical legislation far too many Democrats (and, some might argue, the President) are lacking. Ed's gone on the attack. Someone has to do it.

The one-time pro football player is running interference for the Democrats who are actually doing something to move the ball toward the goal of meaningful national health care by calling out those playing footsie with HMO's and big pharma.

Earlier this week on MSNBC's Ed Show, for example, Schultz opened the broadcast by displaying photos of eight Democratic senators who are still waffling on meaningful health-care reform despite the polls. Schultz, like many of us, has written off GOP Senators as a lost cause. (For good reason P.J. O'Rourke memorably called Congress a "Parliament of Whores" ).

One has to believe that Schultz' constant radio and TV attacks on way-too-powerful Sen. Max Baucus have had a lot to do with Baucus' recent reluctant moves away from the loving arms of the health-insurance lobby.

After a sluggish start on MSNBC this spring, the beefy redhead is en fuego right now with his fiery appeals to follow the public's will to get meaningful health-care passed. When Schultz proclaims "I'm leading the charge" on health care during his radio talk show, it's partly attention-getting bluster (something that brought Shultz national exposure in the first place). But there's also a lot of real truth in it. Most voters are on to Washington's game and are demanding real change.. Schultz not only senses this, he's running with it at the best possible time -- when the public's fickle attention is actually focused on health care.

Right now, Schultz is the most prominent national figure holding Democratic Senators' feet to the fire (someone has to do it) , especially when they come up with silly schemes like health care co-ops and "triggers" to weasel out of meaningful health-care reform.

"It's my soap box," MSNBC's resident pit bull semi-apologized the other night on the Ed Show after a blistering attack on health care opponents' latest outrageous lies.

Schultz, a former conservative, rose to radio prominence largely through a clever gimmick -- he was a lefty whose voice and delivery sounded a lot like Boss Limbaugh's. And more than once, when his show was based in Fargo, N.D. (it's just moved to New York), I wanted to smash my radio after Schultz's tireless defense of the Midwest-centered ethanol industry. Big Ed's radio redemption came at the best possible time.

Schultz deserves thanks, too, for showcasing the Democratic Senators who are actually doing something to get health-care reform passed.

For example, on his nationally syndicated radio show the other day, Schultz asked Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow about opponents' shopworn claim that a public plan "will put the government between people and their doctors."

Stabenow: "Whenever I hear that I say, 'Right now, the one between patients and their doctors are the big insurance companies, and how's THAT working for you?"

Then, on MSNBC's "Ed Show" this week, Schultz' guest was also-feisty Dem Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

A ranking member of the Senate Health and Education Committee, Mikulski revealed that she'd been batting away Republican obstructionist amendments like flies. She said the Party of No had tried this tactic, which has gotten very little publicity, an appalling 175 times recently on one piece of health-care legislation that stressed prevention to cut costs. "How can anyone be against prevention?" she said with exasperation. It was a revealing example of the bruising infighting going on behind the scenes in Washington right now.

Schultz has given Republicans many much-needed swift kicks in the pants the past year. Right now, he's delivering his broadcast butt-kickings to those who need it most - timid Senate Democrats.

And, believe me, this isn't a good time to piss off the Big Guy.