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Carol Felsenthal Headshot

John and Elizabeth Converse in Public

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The timing could have been better for Salem State College, in Salem, Massachusetts, 21 miles outside Boston. Or, who knows? Maybe the timing couldn't be better.

The public university pays big bucks to big names for its 26-year-old lecture series. (Speakers have included former presidents -- Carter, Bush I, Bill Clinton -- major writers -- Maya Angelou, Tom Wolfe -- major media figures -- Walter Cronkite, Thomas Friedman -- activists -- Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem.)

And this year it seemed to have a winner in John and Elizabeth Edwards "in conversation" -- at the sports arena on campus next September 23.

The Edwards are apparently still planning to converse -- asked by Boston Globe reporters if the College was reconsidering the invitation, a spokesman said it's a go as of now; any change in plans will be announced this week. Luckily for curiosity seekers, there are still tickets left.

A visit to the school web site, finds the Edwards on the home page; two clicks away is a description of John and then Elizabeth. The former is described as "a champion of American families and the issues that affect them..."

Like anyone caught in scandal his own biography seems to come back to haunt him, rendering the words faintly ridiculous. "He continues to advocate for change as a strong voice within the Democratic Party."

Barack Obama might wish that the man who would likely have been his attorney general would drop the word "change" and just disappear for awhile, until it's safe to bring him back on stage.

Sort of like Bill Clinton: The story would not have made much an impression on me had I not visited that web site before -- while writing Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, my book on Bill Clinton's post presidency. The former president, in March 2001, went to Salem State to give one of his first post presidential speeches. Reporters from the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald who covered it were not impressed. Clinton pocketed $125,000 for his speech, which included a maudlin reference to his sympathizing with the Salem witches because of his own unfair impeachment. "I knew about the Salem witch trials because I have identified with those witches a time or two."

As I wrote in Clinton in Exile, "While Clinton would prefer that the public take note of his interest in helping poor nations," the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish wrote, "the reality is that, for Clinton, much of his time since leaving office has been focused on money."

Joe Fitzgerald, writing in the Boston Herald, more conservative than the Globe, working class, and never a fan of Clinton's, asked his readers, "...were you, also, a bit appalled watching Nancy Harrington, the matronly [now former] president of Salem State College, giddily greet the disgraced Bill Clinton like some goo-goo-eyed adolescent fawning over her favorite rock star? [...] If there's one place this empty vessel ought not to be welcomed, it's a campus populated by coeds, most of whom, presumably, have been taught not to tolerate the kind of workplace exploitation that became Clinton's calling card. [...] And that's to say nothing about pardoning criminals, lying to grand juries, grabbing gifts and looting souvenirs." He branded as disgraceful the "hero's welcome" given "to someone so predatory, so vile, so deep in denial..."

At the end of his speech, Clinton was greeted with a standing ovation. Earlier, The Boston Herald reported, outside in the bitter cold stood a handful of protesters clutching "Liar, Liar" signs. At a private dinner for Clinton at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, protestors carried signs warning, "Count the Towels."

The Edwards' fee was not disclosed, but they will presumably make much less than the former president.

The one classy item in John Edwards confession performance was appearing solo, not dragging Elizabeth to sit at his side on ABC's Nightline. Who knows whose idea it was that Elizabeth would not pull a Hillary Clinton or a Silda Spitzer or a Suzanne Craig. Perhaps she just said no.

Bill Clinton's was a sellout of the 3600 hockey area; John and Elizabeth, if they appear, will speak from the smaller by half sports center; although if this is their first joint appearance, Salem State might actually need the bigger venue.