One fewer viewpoint on ‘The View’ is a loss for civil political debate

Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth HasselbeckIt’s sad, but no surprise, to see Elisabeth Hasselbeck leave ABC’s “The View” for a new gig as cohost of “Fox and Friends.” And it’s also a loss for people of all political beliefs.

For years, Hasselbeck has been the sole contrarian voice on the show, often taking a more conservative view than the other four hosts: Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Barbara Walters.

Frankly I am relieved for Hasselbeck. I felt stress for her because she was often outnumbered, even ganged up upon. Many conservative women know this feeling, from college or young single life, where our views are unpopular among our peers.

But Hasselbeck’s departure is a real loss to the show, and represents a broader trend of an increasingly polarized public space.

Hasselbeck did conservative women a great service during her time on “The View.” She provided a much-needed voice for Americans who identify as conservative. For many young women, she was a unique role model in the mainstream media.

But Hasselbeck was also providing a service to liberal and progressive viewers, even if they didn’t recognize it. Rather than toeing the line, she provided some pushback and challenged the other hosts. For some “View” viewers, Hasselbeck might have been the only challenging voice they heard.

It’s important and healthy for us to learn about what other people believe and why they believe it, even if in the end we agree to disagree. This skill — civil exchange of ideas — is becoming more and more rare as our country becomes more politically polarized.

As Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing wrote in their 2008 book “The Big Sort,” Americans are increasingly living in politically like-minded neighborhoods. In 1976, only 27 percent of counties in the U.S. went for Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford by 20 percentage points or more. In 2004, 48 percent of American counties went for Bush or Gore by more than 20 points. Basically, there’s a trend indicating that Americans are retreating to live among people with whom we share political views.

It seems our TV shows are following suit. Too often, ideologues appear on television shows to congratulate one another on “how right we are!”

The alternative — contrived debate between two talking heads — is not much better. The usual result is a 30-second talking-point competition. It is increasingly rare to hear an in-depth public discussion between genuine, well-meaning parties who disagree.

I’m happy for Hasselbeck, and I hope she excels on “Fox and Friends.” But her exit from “The View” is a loss — and not just for conservatives like me.

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