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Chilly Alfalfans, Cozying Up to a Nice Warm Toast

Sasser added, "I've decided to model my presidency after the presidency of the man to my right -- George W. Bush. I intend to go to bed early and often. I will vacation frequently. I will admit no mistakes. I pledge to leave no major donor behind. And I will surround myself only with good friends. It's a pleasure to be among good friends this evening."

Breaux kept it up. "I'm out of work -- no check, no food stamps, no welfare. They've thrown me to the wolves. I feel like Colin Powell! I even called Dick Cheney for help. I said, 'Dick, any jobs for me down there?' He said, 'No, but I have some friends over at Halliburton!' "

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld schmoozes with Sen. Mitch McConnell, right, at last night's dinner. (Photos Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

Before the dinner, the lobby was thick with Cabinet members and Cabinet member-designates, Supreme Court justices, senators and ambassadors from administrations past and present. It was a portrait of the continuity and bipartisan chumminess that is the secret bedrock of Washington. There may be lots of shouting on Capitol Hill and out on the campaign trail, but that's just the surface. Time passes, presidents come and go, snow melts -- but a certain order of things abides.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marched in with medals gleaming, followed by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, World Bank President James Wolfensohn and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Former secretary of state James Baker was bundled tightly in a trench coat and a bright red scarf. Another former sec state, George Shultz, huddled with Sen. Richard Lugar.

Philanthropist Catherine Reynolds chatted with Henry Paulson Jr., chairman and CEO of the Goldman Sachs Group, and Henry Kravis, founding partner of a Wall Street takeover firm.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld encountered an impromptu fan club among the tourists who happened to be staying at the hotel and lined up in the lobby for celebrity photo-ops. "I love you!" said Janis Cherry, who described herself as "one of the few Republicans in San Francisco," before planting a kiss on Rummy's cheek.

Coming on the heels of the inauguration, the Alfalfa Dinner's numbers swelled to the largest guest list in recent memory as many out-of-town VIPs tarried.

"It does have a bit of a feeling this year of being the post-prom," said Alfalfan C. Landon Parvin, a writer from Fredericksburg.

So what's the secret -- how does a 92-year-old dinner attract such a crowd in a snowstorm?

"It's just so unusual in a commercial world and a fundraising world . . . to have one dinner that has absolutely no purpose," said Richard E. Pearson, secretary of the club.

Ah, but it does have a purpose.

"To me it is the last refuge of political camaraderie," Parvin said. "If this mood could spread outward from here, we'd be a lot better off in Washington."

The crowd was also thick with Bushes.

"Because of the inauguration, we have a lot of Bushes here tonight," the president said. "George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, Jeb Bush, George Prescott Bush, Marvin P. Bush, Laura Bush, William H.T. Bush, Doro Bush Koch and John Ellis Bush Jr.

"Or, as we are known within the family: 41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 49, 50, 51, 52, and Marvin."

Bush also said: "Jim Baker and Vernon Jordan are here. These two Alfalfans negotiated the debate rules for the two campaigns. A lot of people said the debates served no useful purpose whatsoever and were simply designed to avoid risk and to preserve the status quo.

"Well, precisely, that's why we put Alfalfans in charge."

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