Ed Schultz, star of MSNBC’s primetime lead The Ed Show, is coming off of a year that saw his cable news fortunes rise considerably. On the strength of his years of broadcast experience, and his early catch of 2011?s populist protest wave, and a series of events that landed him in the 8pm timeslot on MSNBC, Schultz is now firmly embedded at the forefront of liberal media consciousness. In this portion of our exclusive interview, Ed discusses his views on hot-button issues like marriage equality, abortion rights, and gun control.
One of the things that makes Ed Schultz somewhat unique in the world of political commentary is his status as a former conservative turned liberal convert (Cenk Uygur, Arianna Huffington, and Media Matters founder David Brock are other notable examples; people like Dennis Miller and Dana Loesch went the other way). Some have questioned Ed’s conversion, casting it as a matter of commercial opportunism, but anyone who has watched or listened to Ed (the guy puts out 20 hours of programming per week) would be hard-pressed to come away believing that he’s living a lie. That would be a Meryl Streep-worthy performance.
Part of the problem is that some people have a very narrow definition of liberalism; that your personal beliefs must check all of the right boxes in order for you to qualify. In my view, liberalism isn’t about changing your personal beliefs, it’s about not imposing them on others, and about being willing to take in new information.
“I don’t think you wake up one day and roll out of the side of the bed and say ‘hey this is how i feel about issues.'” Ed told me. “I think for me, back in the mid-90s, I was going through a series of grassroots events that took a hold of me in my career that had me view things differently.”
Schultz cites things like the farm crisis, health care, education, and veterans issues as contributors to his gradual conversion. “One of the things that got me,” Ed said, “in 1998 when we went and did some radio work in SW North Dakota we had a town hall because the price crisis was going on, and the suicide rate was really high in that portion of NW South Dakota/SW North Dakota. It was really sad, ranchers and farmers that were 4th generation were losing everything they had because they couldn’t keep up. It made me rethink a value system — this is wrong, America was better than this.”
“Then I was connected to Senator Wellstone’s Rally for rural America in March of 2000, there was a 2 or 3 year period there that I had actually gone from somewhat of a conservative, to almost an independent, to one day when I came back and realized I’m a Democrat. The Democrats are more correct on the issues at this point in time than what I had known in the past. It’s not something you say all of a sudden — you don’t flip a light switch on — gosh I’m thinking differently on things now.”
As someone who once held some relatively conservative views (compared to those I hold now), the one problem I always had with Republican politics, the one bridge too far, was the party’s long history of divisive racial politics. I’ve often wondered how former conservatives like Schultz reconciled that.
“With my background,” Ed told me, “I’ve never had a problem with race, I went to a black high school, I’ve been intertwined with black culture since junior high school, going through forced busing for racial equality back in the late ’60s. Race really didn’t have any impact on me on how I felt with the ideological shift.”
He added that “The South has come a long way, even in the last 20 years, who would have ever thought a black man would win Virginia, would win North Carolina…That really didn’t have any impact on how I felt being conservative at the time, to where I am politically right now.”
While we were discussing the range of political attitudes that Ed has experienced, and where his needle falls on the ideological gauge these days, he articulated a wise approach to political commentary. “I don’t sit around thinking about what I’m liberal on or what I’m conservative on,” he said. “I think I take a pretty common sense approach on what is fair. What is fair to people.”
In this next portion of our exclusive interview, I asked Ed for his current views on the topics of marriage equality, abortion rights, and gun control, and even found out how many firearms the host owns. Coming soon: Ed talks about his place in the cable news landscape.
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