There need not be a contest between these two great presidents, both of them remarkable politicians. But the one quality Roosevelt had that Lincoln, at least in his popular portrayal, did not is sheer exuberance. FDR, who called Al Smith a "happy warrior," was himself a happy warrior. It was his jaunty enthusiasm and his willingness to try almost anything to break the back of the Great Depression that mattered most. It had to -- after all, in the end, nothing worked.
The solution is out there . . . somewhere. But it will take time and trial to find it. Obama knows this. It was one of the things he mentioned on "60 Minutes." But what he might not appreciate is that among his many gifts, the one that might matter most is how close he can come to Rooseveltian enthusiasm -- that optimism, that capacity for empathy that made so many ordinary people love this rich man and stick with him. Lincoln, a sometimes melancholy and somber man, belongs, as Edwin M. Stanton said, "to the ages." Roosevelt belongs to ours.