Commentary: Democrats don’t need to unify their factions

The party will find no one ‘unifiying message,’ but it can get behind MLK Jr.’s ‘constructive tension.’

By Dave Anderson

For The Baltimore Sun

It is an assumption about the nature of political parties that they must have a direction, and that direction must speak for most candidates and politicians within the party family. But why? Why can’t there be factions, as there most assuredly are in the Democratic Party?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is going to run in November as a Democratic Socialist regardless of what direction, if any, the Democratic Party takes in the months ahead. Likewise, there are an increasing number of millennials who are excited about running as Democratic Socialists, probably more so than Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a broad swath of the Democratic Party are certainly not going to embrace Democratic Socialism as the direction of the Democratic Party in the months ahead.

And party centrists (admittedly not a big crowd these days), like Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, are even more opposed to Democratic Socialism than Pelosi and her followers. So the centrists, like the establishment liberals and the socialists, are not going to sign on to some new party platform.

It would be best if Democratic strategists stopped trying to figure out how to unify the party between now and Election Day 2020 when these factions are inevitable.

Members are most certainly not going to unify regardless of what the DNC says before the 2018 elections, and it is hard to see how they could unify after the elections, even if Democrats take back the House. There will be many Democratic candidates for president and they are going to be a diverse bunch.

Party politics was more important decades ago, especially when the parties nominated their candidates for president. But primaries took that power away from them. Moreover, the era of backroom deals is over, and the era of big money independent spending is here.

Even more, the era of anti-establishment candidates for president entered when Donald Trump triumphed.

Political parties play many functions, including funding candidates for House and Senate seats. But Democrats are extremely divided today, and they, more than Republicans, accept diversity — within their own party, anyway.

Thus it makes sense to accept the tensions within the party rather than fight them.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. always emphasized the value of “constructive tension,” and he distinguished it from “destructive tension.” Democrats need to leverage the tensions in their ranks and leadership and focus less on unifying behind one message and more on supporting all the candidates and all the politicians and all the organizations that are fighting under the name of the Democratic Party.

Will Rogers had his hands on a deep point when he said he is not a member of an “organized” political party. He was a member of the Democratic Party.

It’s time for Democrats to unify around the idea that they have no one unified message — and then fight each battle, each race, each issue, one at a time.

No one is running against President Donald Trump in 2018, and only one Democrat will be run against him in the 2020 election. Each candidate needs to be their own candidate.

All of this does not mean that Democrats cannot be committed to a very broad set of values. What it means is that there is just no way to get anything meaningful on paper or online that all Democratic politicians and aspiring Democratic politicians will support.

Dave Anderson was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. He is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework.” Email him at

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