Is the steam going out of the Tea Party?
"We stand here today to reclaim our destiny!" proclaimed the speaker at the Tea Party movement's rally in the centre of the capital. It marked the culmination of a day of protests, to mark the date when all Americans have to hand in their tax forms. It was a gorgeous, sunny Thursday evening, better suited to lounging around on the grassy hill beneath the Washington Monument than counter-revolutionary fervour.
"Make them pay - make them go away!" he yelled repeatedly but the crowd failed to take up the chant. One woman said to her friends: "Make him go away." Not that she disagreed with the sentiment, he just wasn't very inspiring.
A few thousand people had come out to mark the culmination of a day of protests. When I asked why so few, people pointed out, absolutely fairly, that it was an evening in the middle of the week and that their were rallies not just in the capital, but all over the country.
The mood was more like a good natured rock concert than the fury of last summer's town hall gatherings. Perhaps a sort of guarded optimism has replaced the anger. But it is hard to know where the Tea Party movement is heading.
The harsh speeches from the stage, the banners depicting Obama as Mao, the warnings of loss of liberty and dictatorship only a step away are in contrast with the often rather measured worries of the people holding them.
Behind the rhetoric tax is the very traditional concern. The president has filed his tax returns, paying $1,792,414 in federal income tax from his income of $ 5,505,409. Few of the people gathered a stone's throw from his home will pay that much, but they all feel what they do pay is too much.
Lauren Boer sits on a wall beneath the monument watching the speeches. She is not rich and she tells me she is fed up with the bailouts, which she says have helped people who bought homes far above their means. She says when her husband was made redundant they lived on rice and beans for eight months to make ends meet and to pay $10,000 tax on what she says is a "shoebox" of a home.
"What am I, some sort of idiot to get up and go to work at 4.45 every morning while they sit at home on the coach in a mansion watching Oprah?"
She is of course holding her own hand-made banner.
One of the noticeable features of Tea Party rallies is the lovingly-crafted placards, some with stinging slogans - "If you don't love America, leave!" - others with cramped words, detailed arguments and even graphs.
But Washington's canny street sales men have wised up to this gathering of free market enthusiasts. A man in dreadlocks waves printed banners with the Tea Party patriots snake and "Don't step on me", and the dollars roll in. The politicians and think tanks too want to capture and directed this inchoate force.
A survey by the New York Times indicates that the average Tea Party supporter is a well-off, well-educated married white man over 45. It seems to me a bit more diverse than that. Almost exclusively white certainly, but there are many women, quite a few young people and lots of families. A prim looking mum, dad and two kids all weaning T-shirts proclaiming "Parental rights group" watch as a lanky Goth woman in extremely skimpy shorts goes by shouting "Liberty!"
"I suspect the politicians will succeed in harnessing and neutering this force. The Tea Party has beliefs, aims and ambitions by the barrel-load but no focus. Movements prosper when they have a clear - and achievable - objective. In fact, curiously for people motivated by a distrust of politicians and disliked of Washington, most of their energy will be spent on electing more Republicans and more conservative Republicans in November, and then trusting them to do the right thing when they get to Washington.
This is very far from a programme.
Matt Lewandowski is watching the rally with his family, all in Patriot T-shirts. He tells me: "Every day they are taking more rights, taxing us to death. Charging their charge card to the moon." He says he doesn't want his grandchildren to pay for the debt the government is creating.
So I ask him how he would cut the deficit. Do away with Medicare (free health care for the retired) for instance? Not that. Cut the huge defence budget? No, not that either. So what? He says: "Cut people out of government, get rid of a lot of people. Get rid of all the waste."
After years covering politics I rather despair when I hear politicians fall back on this, but it is said so often that voters can hardly be blamed for thinking it is a solution. When push comes to shove, politicians in government never quite find those huge savings. Not that there isn't waste, but it is not significant compared to big projects. But real choices are hard.
Outside the park a young man sits with a small banner that tries to point this out. It reads "Stop socialized medicine - close military hospitals". I wonder what sort of response he's been getting.
"Mostly thumbs up. They don't get it. It's kinda funny."