Program Report: Rufus Edmisten

On Monday we were treated some good old fashioned Southern political oratory from Rufus Edmisten, a colorful figure in North Carolina politics for over 40 years. Typical of this genre are acknowledgements, humor and storytelling.  The storytelling began during Craig Brown’s introduction of Mr. Edmisten who described some “catch-up” work both were assigned when they were students together at George Washington Law School.  The work was successfully completed and celebrated with a “kegger” that Judge Brown admitted he had little memory of.  

Edmisten also acknowledged Rob Everett and working with his father Judge Robinson Everett. He also had fond words for Anna Jones and her father “Chairman” Jones, a key figure in the desegregation of North Carolina Schools.  

Although, Mr. Edmisten was the Attorney General of North Carolina for ten years, Secretary of State for four years and a gubernatorial candidate once, his participation in the impeachment of President Richard Nixon as a young Deputy Chief Counsel for Senator Sam Ervin’s Senate Watergate Committee may be his claim to fame. In that capacity he served the subpoena to Nixon…the first ever on a sitting president by a Congressional Committee. The subpoena sought the Watergate Tapes and was delivered to Nixon’s lawyers with a pocket copy of the Constitution that Edmisten happened to have with him. 

In discussing the differences between that impeachment effort and the current attempt in Washington, he mentioned that Congress is now weaker and with less bipartisan cooperation. He mentioned the agreement that Senator Ervin had with the ranking member of the Committee Howard Baker, not to disagree in public, a vow they kept despite many disagreements.  

Another interesting story was about a night he and his wife spent in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House at the invitation of Bill Clinton. He noted that his wife observed her regular schedule of going to bed with a book at 9:30, while he paced around all night.  

Getting down to what we need in Congress (and the country, for that matter) to get along, he mentioned five traits. The first was empathy; we have to put more effort into trying to understand other points of view in a time where our politics are deeply divided. Another was to never forget those that have helped you out.  Then there was the need to check your hubris and never think you have all the answers. Finally he mentioned the necessity of some sort of spirituality. 

There was another one that was second in his list but personally I found a little puzzling. His advice was to choose your own friends.  This seemed a little at odds with the need for empathy. However, I think I have figured out how I can get that clarified.  

Mr. Edmisten brought with him a guest, Nancy Carter Moore and copies of his book that were for sale. Ms. Moore helped him with the production of the book that is entitled That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life. The buzz around the table in the back with the books after the meeting was a good measure of the enthusiasm generated by the program. If you weren’t there or couldn’t wait in line to buy it, the book is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble both in paperback and electronic versions.  Interestingly, when I searched Edmisten’s name on Amazon, the book that appeared below it was Judge Craig Brown’s book A Fork in the Road, also in paperback electronic versions. Maybe there are more details about that kegger in Judge Brown’s book. Buy them both for two compelling stories. 

I also found audio interviews of Mr. Edmisten, the longest about 45 minutes, at this link: https://www.wfae.org/post/charlotte-talks-rufus-edmisten-reflects-watergate-nc-politics-and-how-bbq-tipped-election#stream/0 for those want more of North Carolina history from a man who lived it. 

 

Submitted by Jay Zenner 

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