The spirit of the Rally To Restore Sanity was summed up by what dozens of people described on Twitter: The sighting of a little girl in a princess dress, carrying a sign that said "I'm taking back my tea party."
WASHINGTON —Part circus, part satire, part holiday parade, the crowds that flooded the National Mall for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on Saturday made it a political event like no other.
It was a Democratic rally without a Democratic politician, featuring instead two political satirists, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert, who used the stage to rib national journalists and fear-mongering politicians, and to fake-fight each other over dueling songs about trains.
Though at no point during the show did either man plug a political candidate, a strong current of political engagement coursed through the enormous crowd, which stretched from the Capitol almost to the Washington Monument, an overwhelming response to a call by Mr. Stewart on his show on the Comedy Central network. The turnout clogged traffic, and filled subways and buses to the point of overflow.
The National Park Service did not offer a crowd estimate. But in an e-mail, one Comedy Central executive joked that the size of the crowd was “30 or 40 million.” And before the event, Mr. Colbert offered his own guess in a Twitter message: “Early estimate of crowd size at rally: 6 billion.”
The event, sponsored by Comedy Central, was viewed by many in the crowd as a counterweight to the Rally to Restore Honor” led by the Fox News host Glenn Beck near the Lincoln Memorial two months ago. Some participants holding anti-Fox and anti-Beck signs staged a protest near a Fox News satellite truck.
For many who came, the rally was an opportunity to take control of the political narrative, if only for one sunny Saturday afternoon. Participants, overwhelmingly liberal, wore political buttons, waved flags and carried signs, often with funny messages.
A cluster of women in their 50s held small white signs that read “Shrinks for sanity.” A man in a fleece jacket held a sign that said, “I can see the real America from my house.”
Others signs were absurdist. Daniel Short, 29, a visual effects artist from New York City, said the message of his sign, taped to a cardboard tube — “Tights are not pants” — was “just another one of those silent majority issues.”
Political protests also came in costume. One man wore only a diaper and a sombrero, and carried a large wooden anchor — a depiction of an “anchor baby,” the name conservative talk show hosts have given to children born in the United States to immigrant parents. “I’m feeling a little exposed,” he said, shortly after the rally finished.
But beyond the goofiness, the rally seemed to be channeling something deep — a craving to be heard and a frustration with the lack of leadership, less by President Obama than by a Democratic Party that many participants described as timid, fearful, and failing to stand up for what they see as the president’s accomplishments.
“I’m proud of Obama, but the Democrats in Congress, they’re just running for cover,” said Ron Harris, a lawyer from Laguna Beach, Calif., who came to celebrate his 64th birthday. “They couldn’t sell bread to a starving mother if God was standing next to them.”
Some in the crowd expressed regret that it was comedians, not politicians, who were able to channel their frustration.
“We don’t have any place to turn,” said Michelle Sabol, 41, a jewelry designer from Pittsburgh. Mr. Stewart, she said, gave voice to her feeling of frustration and isolation.