By Llewellyn King

At Christmas, vintners, distillers, and brewers dance a discreet jig. They know that maiden aunts who drink only Communion wine all year will get red-faced on Cabernet Sauvignon this time of year. Accountants will lose count of their sips of eggnog. Lawyers will surrender to the siren song of gin descending on ice. O holy night!

The English song claims that a "little bit of what you like does you good." Those words encapsulate the abandon and jollity of the secular Christmas.

But there is a terrible exception: Congress. Democrats and Republicans are at each other's throats like pit bulls, releasing their jaws only to get a better grip.

If ever there was a need for an intervention by John Barleycorn, it is now.

Republicans and Democrats need to meet each other in what Australians call the raising of the glass. A laugh, a nudge, a wink, an off-color remark, and the nation's legislators may again be able to take care of the nation's business.

Only 30 or 40 years ago, Congress was more like the House of Commons in London, the Dail in Ireland, and the Palace of Deputies in Paris: It was awash in what Thomas Jefferson called "ardent spirits" - and bipartisanship.

Congress contained some unlikely party animals. One committee chairman, the epitome of severity by day, would at 6 p.m. break out a bottle of Scotch whisky. Another legislator revered for his sagacity would have a tray of drinks served by his mistress at 11 a.m. Journalists would exchange information on which offices to hang around for better stories after the corks had popped.

Those were also days when one did not necessarily know a particular member's party or voting record. In newsrooms, journalists would sing out, "What party is so-and-so from California?" Apparently, those who had enjoyed a noggin the night before found it easier to make accommodation by day.

How, then, did the greatest deliberative body ever conceived dry out, abandon conviviality and good sense, and become the hissing reptile house we know?

If you want, you can blame Newt Gingrich and the 1994 GOP revolution, after which calls of "Cheers!" gave way to vindictive leaks to journalists about the after-hours activities of one's colleagues.

There also was a journalistic revolution. After Watergate, reporters began to cover the foibles as well as the purposes of politicians. Blind eyes weren't turned to romancers or drinkers. Cameras on the floor scared Congress into sobriety. The irony is that journalists, known for their intemperance, helped drive the political class to abstinence.

Even so, our democracy is in fearful shape, so try and get a congressman to have a little Christmas cheer. Not enough, mind you, to get Nancy Pelosi dancing on a table or Newt Gingrich embracing her. We don't want Mitch McConnell crying in his beer, and we are stuck with Harry Reid the way he is.

Merry Christmas to all.

Llewellyn King hosts PBS's "White House Chronicle."