Yes, Virginia, there IS an Alfalfa Club
Okay, so there's an Alfalfa Club -- but no Buckwheat Club, Darla Club, or Spanky Club? (Okay, the Alfalfa Club is now more than 100 years old, so maybe the Little Rascals' Alfalfa isn't actually their namesake.)
It seems like only last Friday that we were saying bye-bye to the 2016 GOP front-runner, Willard Romney. Okay, I guess probably it was last Friday. And as part of the celebration ("Say good night, Willard"), here at DWT we had a special "Willard Goes Bye-Bye" Quiz, and among the questions were these two:
4. Willard made his announcement today, a day before arriving in Washington for an important annual event. What is that event?I know probably some of you are still thinking I made this up, the so-called Alfalfa Club. Especially when you consider that the first thing that's always said about it -- presumably by people who are in on the gag -- is how "exclusive" it is. And yet it is purported to have seven (seven!) members of the Bush family on its rolls. Seven members of the Bush family? Could you really call that a "club"? It sounds more like a "pack," or a "mob."
(a) The annual dinner of the exclusive Alfalfa Club, where he is being inducted as a new member.
(b) The announcement of a new plan to return the Washington Redskins to NFL playoff contention.
(c) The announcement of a new plan to fund the government until the next shutdown threat.
(d) The blossoming of the cherry trees. (What, they're not? Are you sure? But my crack staff people said . . .)
ANSWER: (a) The annual dinner of the Alfalfa Club. (No, I don't know what the Alfalfa Club is. Do you really want to know?)
5. Which of the following members of the Alfalfa Club will be seated at the head table along with Willard? (Choose all that apply.)
(a) All seven Bush family members who are members.
(b) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
(c) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
(d) Alfalfa from the Little Rascals.
ANSWER: (b) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and (c) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. None of the Bush family members will be attending. Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the Little Rascals films, was shot to death under still-muddled circumstances on the night of Jan. 21, 1959.
And as long as we're on the subject of the seven Bush-family Alfalfites, how does it happen that all seven of them were known not to be attending Saturday night? Did the date, like, conflict with Bush-family NASCAR Nite? And you know, it can't be easy for Willard, the new Alfalfite, knowing that even if he can somehow manage to slip all five of his war-wimp sons into the club, they'll still be outnumbered by all those Bushes, 7-6. Man, that's a lot of Bushes. Groucho Marx said famously that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. Who wouldn't want to belong to a club that had Groucho as a member. But seven Bush-family members?
Be that as it may, if you want to know everything a reasonable person could possibly want to know about the Alfalfa Club, the Washington Post's Emily Heil offered "Reliable Source" readers a primer, "What's the deal with the Alfalfa Club?," in anticipation of Saturday night's great event. And if you want to know more than a reasonable person could want to know, by all means check out Roxanne Roberts's referenced "Style" piece, "The Alfalfa Club: still a place for the powerful to see and be seen."
SO WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE ALFALFA CLUB?
Emily provides us with a handy Q-and-A (links onsite), explaining, "Here’s what you need to know."
Who are these people?
Some of the richest and most powerful people in the world. The Alfalfa Club is more exclusive than most of Washington’s social organizations, and unlike, say, the Gridiron (which is all journalists), the members come from all sectors. Among the some 200 members, there’s a good contingent of political types (from both parties, but mostly senators; House members are kind of considered plebs in this crowd), and a heavy presence from the corporate world.
To name a few: Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Marriott, Steve Case, Chief Justice John Roberts, White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Vernon Jordan, per this excellent profile of the club by our colleague Roxanne Roberts.
What does the name mean?
The perhaps apocryphal story of the 102-year-old club’s founding goes something like this: It began as a celebration of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday, and the name comes from the plant known for being “thirsty” (i.e., it likes to drink, just like some members of the club).
How do you get into the club?
Shocker — it’s invite-only! Openings occur when members die, and a group of the club’s senior members propose and approach prospective newbies. “Lobbying for admission is frowned upon,” Roberts says.
What happens at the dinner?
Each member brings two guests, who sometimes include a Hollywood type for novelty’s sake — but this is no celebrity-overrun White House Correspondents Dinner. There are funny speeches (that is, if you get inside jokes about Cabinet secretaries and the stock market) by the incoming and outgoing presidents of the club, as well as by a member held forth as the club’s mock presidential nominee.
Traditionally, POTUS shows up, though President Obama has attended only twice: in 2009 and 2012. It’s all ostensibly off-the-record, though some of the quips and details inevitably leak.
Isn’t it just a bunch of old white guys?
Sort of, though diversity and the number of women in the club’s ranks has grown since ladies were first admitted in 1994, a move partly prompted by President Bill Clinton’s snub the previous year. Today, the roster includes businesswoman Catherine Reynolds, Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Dianne Feinstein, and Lockheed Martin chief executive Marillyn Hewson.
Alfalfa Club members apparently don’t care about looking like a bunch of elitist fat-cats, because they swear that’s not what the annual gathering is about. “Occupy Wall Street” protesters showed up in 2012 and glitter-bombed attendees, but the dinner-goers shrugged it off, Roberts reports.
WaPo caption: "The then-all male Alfalfa Club held their annual dinner at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 30, 1993. Members of the club are seen here socializing in the lobby of the hotel."
Any more questions? I don't know, maybe Groucho would have been impressed. Or then again, maybe not.