I think Virginia Postrel has it exactly right in this blog post about how each of the two parties view themselves. (She's quoting from Clinton's speech last night at the beginning.
We think the role of government is to give people the tools and conditions to make the most of their lives. Republicans believe in an America run by the right people, their people, in a world in which we act unilaterally when we can, and cooperate when we have to.
That's an interesting anti-elitist message, one that directly contradicts the Republicans' view of themselves and their opponents. Both parties, in other words, think the other guys "believe in an America run by the right people." Technocracy is certainly dead as a governing ideal, though not as a practice.
Clinton's statement can be read many different ways, depending on your point of view. "The role of government is to give people the tools and conditions to make the most of their lives" can describe anything from a classical liberalism that emphasizes the importance of underlying institutions--if I didn't know the source, I might endorse it myself--to a Swedish-style welfare state.
The biggest mistake one can make in understanding American politics is to think that people in one party or the other are primarily motivated by greed, power, or a desire to screw over other people. As someone who has switched within the past 10 years from being a Democrat (okay, I wasn't old enough to vote when I was a Democrat) to a Republican-leaning libertarian, I can say with certainty that most people in both parties truly believe their policies are the best ones for America and for all Americans.
It really pains me that so many Democrats are so willing to say and believe that Republicans are evil, that Bush and Cheney are only out to pad their wallets. And it pains me that so many Republicans believe the same things about Democrats, environmentalists, gun control advocates, abortion rights activists.
Why is it so shockingly easy to get caught up in the belief that "I am good and my opponent is evil"? Is it some kind of mob mentality? Is it the same emotion that gives rise to sports fanaticism? Knowing that I sound incredibly naive, I'm still going to type this sentence: Why can't people just listen to what other people are saying?