Normally, State of the Union speeches get as quickly forgotten as party platforms, but last night’s address had a moment or two that may stick. This moment in particular will stick in the flesh of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a while. Donald Trump hailed the emergence of Juan Guaidó in Venezuela and the collapse of the socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro, and in doing so needled the neo-socialists in the crowd in front of him:
Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela, and its new interim President, Juan Guaido.
We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.
Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
The reactions are priceless. Nancy Pelosi had a little more situational awareness than Sanders had; she knew enough to smile and offer a golf clap to the idea of freedom and liberty. Sanders sat in his chair stroking his chin and glowering. Perhaps he didn’t think the camera was on him, but as the only avowed socialist in the US Senate, where else would the camera go?
The camera didn’t seek out Ocasio-Cortez, but she later claimed that Trump’s volley showed that he fears her popularity:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night and celebrated his criticism of socialism as evidence that her progressive policies are gaining steam.
“I think he’s scared,” she told MSNBC. “I thought it was fabulous, it shows that we got under his skin.”
She went on to say that the president attacked democratic socialism — her brand of progressive politics — because he fears the popularity of her agenda.
“I think that he needs to do it because he feels himself losing on the issues,” she went on. “Every single policy proposal that we have adopted and presented to the American public has been overwhelmingly popular, even some with a majority of Republican voters supporting what we’re talking about.”
Her agenda is popular until the costs get pointed out to voters, at which point support drops to the level of support for Maduro-style socialism in general.
This was a moment worth savoring. Taking on the historical and economic illiteracy of socialism in front of the joint session of Congress makes the anti-republican, imperial trappings of the SOTU almost worth it. Almost.