The 300,000 people who attended the "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington were told not to bring political placards, and the speakers – even the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin – did not cite President Barack Obama once. But the Tea Party cheerleader Glenn Beck, who organised the event, was yesterday adamant that its success signified something of political importance for the US: voters are deeply unhappy with the direction in which the country is headed.
The Fox News commentator had taken to the steps of the capital's Lincoln Memorial, 47 years to the day after Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech from the spot, to deliver a call for a return to traditional values. His critics accused him of stirring racial tensions, and the media took a stand-offish approach to the large conservative crowds that thronged around the famous reflecting pool beneath the Washington Monument. Meanwhile, leaders of both parties were watching to see if the event might energise conservative voters ahead of November's elections that could result in the Democratic party losing control of one or both houses of Congress.
Mr Beck declared yesterday that the event showed there was a yearning for something better from politics. "You don't get that many people to come to Washington to stand there and have that kind of moment for no reason," he told Fox News Sunday. "A good number of people are not happy with the direction we are going."
The rally, ostensibly a fundraiser designed to honour American troops and to call for restoring God to the centre of American life, seems certain to keep Mr Beck's peculiar brand of demagoguery at the centre of the pre-election debate.
The Republican establishment hardly knows how to handle the broadcaster, whose emotional warnings about impending socialism and moral degradation in the US have often landed him in trouble, but have turned him into one of the most-watched hosts on Fox News.
The anti-tax Tea Party movement has swept aside numerous mainstream Republicans in favour of more right-wing candidates, with uncertain consequences for the party's fortunes in November. Political officeholders were not invited to the rally, but Ms Palin continued her campaign for the presidency in 2012 by making an appearance.
Mr Beck was criticised for playing with racial symbolism by holding his event on the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. He has been accused of playing on racial prejudices by painting Mr Obama as alien to the values of mainstream America. "They represent hate-mongering and angry white people," said Jaime Contreras of the Service Employees International Union, speaking at the smaller "Reclaim the Dream" rally.
The rallies were covered with an even hand on most news channels. Fox News was not among the organisations, however, that summarised the racial make-up of the crowds. Most others pointed out that the attendees at the Beck rally were "predominantly white".