There are exhibits all over town noting the centennial of the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and what they show is that we still don't know what to make of him. It is the measure of the man that we have not yet taken his measure. The centennial exhibits range from vivid through pallid to perfunctory. All more or less successfully evoke his era, but one comes away lacking a sense of man himself, partly because all avoid controversial statements about this president who swam in controversy. After nearly 40 years in his grave, "that man" is still hot to the touch. Most of what's to be seen can be reached by subway; unfortunately, the logical progression involves a lot of backtracking from the starting point, which has to be FDR: THE EARLY YEARS at the National Portrait Gallery. It's a small exhibit, but worth the trip if only to see the original 1880s studio portrait of Franklin and his father: A formal, solemn pose, conventional in every way except that the boy is seated on the man's shoulder, to antic effect, it says more about Squire Roosevelt the Elder than anything I have read. Franklin, we're told, was dominated or obsessed by women all his life, especially Mother Sara, who is painted as a genteel Dragon Lady. His father was a faint background figure, we are told. Maybe so, but FDR depended upon, and was loved and loyally served by, mainly men; and he had a warm and easy fellowship with aide and stranger alike that testifies to the deep influence of a loving, and fun-loving, father. Anyway, it's a great picture. On the wall nearby is a picture of a sailboat the lad is thought to have drawn at five or six. At a glance it seems to be a standard schoolboy rendering, but the fine details of mast and rigging and running gear are all correct; it could be sailed away. And there is a dashed-off 1911 note from Louis Howe about campaign matters that tells all we need to know about their relationship. Across the courtyard from the Portrait Gallery is the National Museum of American Art, where hangs a show -- ROOSEVELT'S AMERICA -- of some of the painters who were nourished by the three federal arts programs that scandalized even some of Roosevelt's admirers. Government patronage of artists was perhaps the most "unAmerican" feature of the New Deal, and still rattles the teacups in a few salons. Consisting largely of studies for murals, the work is all respectable and some of it is first-rate. Aside from their inherent quality, the paintings serve as a record of the substance as well as the style of their period. Stewardship of many of the fruits of the arts projects has ranged from indifferent to heinous, by all accounts. Not a few of the works are by such artists as Ben Shahn and de Kooning, and one Smithsonian curator has suggested that a thorough inventory of them would disclose that "judicious sales might liquidate a significant fraction of the national debt." While pondering that, take the Metro over to the Museum of American History, which has the only major Roosevelt exhibit of the bunch. Although by Smithsonian standards it was hastily conceived and executed, having been in the works only about six months, it is high-caliber indeed. FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: THE INTIMATE PRESIDENCY is both vivid and homey. It has everything from the '38 Ford convertible with hand controls that the crippled president drove around Warm Springs to a re-creation of the fireplaceless office from which he broadcast the fireside chats. Following its admirable rule of adhering unswervingly to the real stuff, and using its irresistible clout in the museum office is the centerpiece of several sets that show, on one hand, the down- and-out yeomen to whom he brought hope and often life-building help, and, on the other, a middle-class home such as the many he saved with the moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. There is, of course, a chicken in the pot on the kitchen stove. Left with large and awkward pits from a previous exhibit, curator Arthur Molella filled them with some more of those arts programs goodies, which works very well. What he used best of all was some of the Farm Security Administration photographs by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and others that will, if you're not careful, knock you down. Opposite the broadcast office is part of the natural environment of the White House reporters Roosevelt used so effectively; there are also newsreels and tapes of the fireside chats. Pick up various earphones and you can listen to such radio-ranting Roosevelt contemporaries as Huey Long and Father Coughlin. Across the Mall at the Hirshhorn is FIVE DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI: THE WPA FEDERAL ART PROJECT, a show of recent works by five ranking artists who were sustained by the arts projects: de Kooning, Ibram Lassaw, Alice Neel, James Brooks and Ilya Bolotowsky, who died at 74 in November while still hard at work. Each of the five is quoted as saying something nice about the WPA, and the point, presumably, is that the money was well spent. Of course the majority of the artists in the project were second-raters -- as are the majority of artists in all times and all places -- but who cares, when it only took $23.86 a week each to keep all of them going while they were sorting themselves out. FDR's sympathy for artists was not matched by his taste in art, which even his friends say was awful, but that didn't stop him from going to openings and generally lending his name around where it would do the most good. The Corcoran Gallery this weekend opens an exhibit (FDR AND THE NEW DEAL AT THE CORCORAN) concerning Roosevelt's friendship with the Corcoran family and, through them, patronage of individual artists. True Roosevelt junkies must now head back across town to the National Archives, whose FDR exhibit, rather grandly titled BIOGRAPHY IN PHOTOGRAPHS, is mainly just a glass case with 18 pictures. While heading that way, you can keep going to Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress, which has more than 40 cartoons, by artists as diverse as Gluyas Williams, Herblock and Clifford Berryman, in a show called TO GROWL WARNINGS. And more or less in the neighborhood, the U.S. Marine Corps Museum, in the Navy Yard at Eighth and M SE, has a show, FDR AND THE U.S. MARINE CORPS, largely chronicling Roosevelt's tour as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913 to 1920) and his dealings with the Corps while president. Back on the Mall again, in the National Air and Space Museum lobby, is THE FLYING ROOSEVELTS, with photographs showing FDR flying and captions that tell us he was the first presidential candidate to fly, the first president to fly while in office, the first to have an aircraft assigned to him, and the first since Lincoln to visit an active theater of war but now I've told you what it says so you don't have to go. Another lobby exhibit, not reachable by subway, is MARY McLEOD BETHUNE AND ROOSEVELT'S 'BLACK CABINET' at the Anacostia Museum, focusing on the black leaders who met in Bethune's home and served as a source of advice on Negro interests for FDR's administration. The exhibit includes a cane that Eleanor Roosevelt gave Bethune after FDR died -- it had been a gift from Theodore Roosevelt -- as well photographs of members of the "kitchen cabinet."