As painful as it was, I watched a bit of ABC's coverage of the arrival of President Ford's remains at the Capitol this evening. Among the guest commentators were David Gergen (that hipster--he's got his own website) and Richard Norton Smith, both the sorts of conservatives that Democrats and the media love to have around for their tempered views. Still, to hear Gergen and and Smith chatting it up with Charlie Gibson and Barbara Walters (who was vacationing in the same locale as Henry Kissinger when word came of Ford's death) about the poisonous atmosphere that existed in Washington around the time Ford took office--how there were protesters with the temerity to stand outside the White House gates and scream that Nixon be impeached, how buses were lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue as barricades, how troops were stationed around Washington to put down any insurrection, how the country was at war with itself--you get the sense that in their minds the unwashed masses were just as much to blame for the tenor of the times as the suited white guys in the inner sanctums of the White House. I had always thought that to the extent Ford had, in the oft-used phrase, restored confidence in the Presidency he had done so by elevating the conduct of those in the White House, raising the office above the shabby habits of his predecessor's men. It had not occurred to me (although it probably should have) until listening to Gergen and Smith that for many people Ford's signature service to the country was calming the waters so that the rabble quieted down and went home. It is in that sense that the pardon of Nixon helped "heal" the country (clearing the way three decades later for Smith to reminisce about the Ford children playing in Statuary Hall on Saturdays in a quaint Washington of a different era). All these years later, you can still discern a liberal from a conservative by whether she perceives the protesters or all the President's men as a greater threat to democracy.