If you read my posts here or on other forums you know that I often refer to myself as a "strong-party" Democrat. What does that mean? And why is it important?
Simply put, strong-party refers to a political philosophy or model based on the belief that you generally get more votes by clearly differentiating yourself from your opponents through taking strong stands on values and issues. This motivates and brings out your base, attracts independents who prefer strong leaders, and advances your political agenda, although at the risk of driving away voters who don't agree with you.
The opposite of the strong-party model is the cautious-party model, which is the dominant model in the Democratic Party today (although that's starting to change). This model holds that the path to political success is to blur the distinction between you and your opponents by taking vague general positions and avoiding controversial issues. The goal is to get as many votes as possible by not offending anyone. The main drawback is that you tend to be seen as weak, so it's hard to motivate your base and you lose independent voters who value leadership above ideology. It also makes it harder to advance your political agenda, and increases the risk of a third-party challenge.
Notice that all this has nothing to do with ideology. It isn't about left verses right, but rather two very different strategies for political success. John Kerry is a cautious-party liberal, and Joe Lieberman is a cautious-party moderate. Dennis Kucinich is a strong-party liberal, and Howard Dean is a strong-party moderate.
Despite the fact that I'm a liberal who is often at odds with moderates, I believe that the real fight within the Democratic Party is philosophical, not ideological. What is generally perceived as a left/right division is actually a fight over fundamentally differing views of what the Democratic Party is, and what we must do in order to succeed.
There are valid historical reasons why the Democratic Party is dominated by cautious-party politicians and leaders, but politics in the US has fundamentally changed over the last thirty years, and we as a party haven't kept up. It's time to have this debate and start moving our party forward.