Though it is difficult to recall, there was a time when liberalism was identified with cheerfulness. Franklin Roosevelt, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “radiated personal charm, joy in his work, optimism for the future.” Meeting Roosevelt, according to Winston Churchill, was “like uncorking a bottle of champagne.” Hubert Humphrey was known as the “happy warrior,” displaying what Ronald Reagan described as “a truly buoyant civility.” “He was robust and energetic,” said Reagan. “He loved the battle. He was warm and affectionate. He was hearty and spirited.”

Who could argue that Obama currently radiates “joy in his work”? It is a chore, a sacrifice, for which we are expected to be grateful. The warriors have become dour. The champagne has gone flat. At the high-water mark of its recent political influence, liberalism is depressed, disappointed, deflated…

Disappointed that Congress and the public did not cheer every progressive initiative, modern liberalism has become a search for explanations that do not involve concessions. For the Obama team, that explanation is Washington — the Babylon on the Potomac. Thus they avoid the need for reflection and readjustment — at least for a time.