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On this day in 1940, the New York Times printed this picture of Franklin Roosevelt paying tribute to Abraham Lincoln, doing that “standing up” thing he only did on really important occasions. Below, in comments, I asked if Ari were really sure that Lincoln, and not Roosevelt, rates as America’s greatest president. (What I really said was, doesn’t saving Western civilization rate higher than saving the Union? Which Ari said was racist. But as Homer would say, he’s a greasy thug.)

Ari replied by saying, many another plausible president would have squandered the Union in the 1860s, but not Lincoln: could I say the same about Roosevelt — that another plausible president would not have done as well as he?

Yes, I would say that. We have a pretty good idea how Herbert Hoover would have reacted to the Great Depression — not well. And he was probably the most progressive Republican available. We have reason to believe Roosevelt’s predecessor, Al Smith, would done about as well as Hoover, because he became a Liberty Leaguer and opposed Roosevelt. And we know Landon thought of Roosevelt as a Nazi.

Then we have the evidence that Roosevelt’s peculiar temperament contributed to his political success in the 1930s: he could leave two feuding parties believing he favored both of them and could endlessly compromise. His eccentricities account for the peculiar shape of Social Security which, with its flaws, has retained that immunity he predicted for it in 1941: “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

As for the war, is it even contestable that Roosevelt was able as no other American leader to meet this crisis? He was among the least isolationist of US politicians, the one most attuned to the threat Hitler posed, the one best suited to charm Churchill out of the empire, the one best able to invoke Woodrow Wilson while avoiding his mistakes.

So: saving American capitalism and (it’s not wildly implausible to say) constitutionalism, plus saving Britain while paving the way to liberate its colonies, and pulling out a win for (is it racist? Gandhi thought it would be a good idea) Western civilization by establishing a basis for international human rights. High marks, I think.