As a candidate in the 2008 campaign, he used this line to blast Republicans: “Abraham Lincoln once said to one of his opponents, ‘If you stop telling lies about me, I’ll start telling truth about you.’ ”

That isn’t Lincoln, of course, but instead the words of another Illinois pol, Adlai Stevenson, who stole it from either William Randolph Hearst or 19th-century New York Sen. Chauncey Depew.

But in his interview this past weekend with David Gregory of NBC, Obama dusted off a real Lincoln line. “One of the things that you learn — and I’ve now been in this office for four years,” Obama said, “the old adage of Abraham Lincoln’s: that with public opinion there is nothing you can’t do, and without public opinion there’s very little you can get done in this town.”

This was a sentiment Lincoln expressed several times, and he wasn’t only talking about Washington. As Americans have been reminded amid the “fiscal cliff” dysfunction, Lincoln was talking about something that is both the pillar, and the occasional pitfall, of elective democracy. A hundred years later, a state Senate candidate in California named Dick Tuck put it this way after losing a 1962 primary election: “The people have spoke — the bastards.”