Watching the president‘s speech broadcast over three television screens at Pasadena’s All Saints Church, you might have thought you were attending a sitcom. Candelabra, pews and vaulted ceilings are not conducive to mirth, but that was the unintended effect the president had on the crowd of several hundred gathered for “moral reflections” on his State of the Union speech.
Laugh lines included: “After stock-market declines, our economy is recovering,” and the president‘s empty talk of “improving the environment.” When he spoke of helping AIDS victims here and abroad, some applauded. Many hissed when Bush spoke of needing to take action against Iraq. One young Asian woman left the church crying.
After the speech, as the TV showed the congressional audience on its feet, the congregation sat in silence, except for the sound of one person applauding. Munching on a sandwich outside in a courtyard, Stephen Rohde, former president of the ACLU of Southern California, likened the president more to a character from The Sopranos than to one from The West Wing. Congregation member Beth Romans said that if she had watched it alone at home, without community support, she would have been utterly depressed.
Among the post-show speakers was the Rev. Tim McDonald of Atlanta’s First Inconium Baptist Church. He cited a litany of economic woes and civil rights abuses under Bush‘s watch, and brought the sedate crowd to its feet with his closing words: “They thought there was an anti-war movement during Vietnam; I’m here to tell them, you ain‘t seen nothin’ yet.”