A critic who is angry can be confronted as an equal. A critic who is disappointed is asserting his superiority. The method is inseparable from smugness. The view from Olympus may be broad, but it makes a leader distant from the ants below.

Obama’s approach is particularly self-defeating when it comes to the left. He desperately needs to inspire Democratic intensity in a midterm election where most of the energy seems on the other side. The method he has chosen is to accuse progressives of “lethargy.” “People need to buck up,” he says, in his most disappointed tone. Their lack of energy is “inexcusable” and “irresponsible.” “If people now want to take their ball and go home,” he snaps, “that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

Two years after an inspiring presidential campaign, this approach shows a total misunderstanding of what political inspiration means.