by Max Brantley
WASHINGTON, May 8 — With Democrats increasingly optimistic about this year's midterm elections and the landscape for 2008, intellectuals in the center and on the left are debating how to sharpen the party's identity and present a clear alternative to the conservatism that has dominated political thought for a generation.
Many of these analysts, both liberals and moderates, are convinced that the Democrats face a moment of historic opportunity. They say that the country is weary of war and division and ready — if given a compelling choice — to reject the Republicans and change the country's direction. They argue that the Democratic Party is showing signs of new health — intense party discipline on Capitol Hill, a host of policy proposals and an energized base.
But some of these analysts argue that the party needs something more than a pastiche of policy proposals. It needs a broader vision, a narrative, they say, to return to power and govern effectively — what some describe as an unapologetic appeal to the "common good," to big goals like expanding affordable health coverage and to occasional sacrifice for the sake of the nation as a whole.
This emerging critique reflects, for many, a hunger to move beyond the carefully calibrated centrism that marked the Clinton years, which was itself the product of the last big effort to redefine the Democratic Party.