With Response To Haiti, Bill Clinton Returns To Spotlight

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Bill Clinton has been in hiding. Not literally, of course. But in practice–totally. Since his dispiriting turn in the 2008 elections–offending Ted Kennedy, calling Obama a “fairy tale,” bumbling in South Carolina–the former president made the hard call: He volunteered to leave the public spotlight so that his wife could become Secretary of State. And even that earned him no brownie points, just more concern. As the new book Game Change reveals, Hillary Clinton had to confide in Obama, when she initially turned down the Secretary of State job, that she would not be able to control her husband’s behavior.

Then Haiti collapses, and Bubba is back, in all of his best ways, as a communicator, humanitarian, leader of the world. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton was all over cable television, explaining, rallying, consoling. He gave an extended address to the United Nations. And he found time to turn in an article for the new issue of TIME. Then Thursday, reports began to trickle out of the White House that President Obama has asked Clinton and George W. Bush to run a new fund-raising push for Haiti.

But the scale of Bill’s return is not simply captured by listing his activity of the past couple days. One must look at the quality of his performance, too. On CNN Wednesday, Wolf Blitzer effectively turned over the Situation Room to Clinton. The transcript is worth reading, though it does not fully capture Clinton’s great powers of communication (without notes) and public empathy:

BLITZER: Mr. President, people all over the world are watching right now. We are being seen on CNN and CNN International in more than 240 countries. Speak first to leaders around the world what you want them to do to help and then speak from your heart to individuals who are simply shaken by what is going on in Haiti right now.

CLINTON: Well, first, to the leaders, I would say, if you have already made a commitment in one of our donors conferences, you need to check and see whether you have fulfilled that commitment. Most countries are way behind on fulfilling it. And I would urge you to fulfill the commitment as soon as possible. And if you can provide any of this emergency help, if you can give us helicopters, if you can give us basic medical supplies, we need that. But, remember, this is going to be a long-term process. Haiti has an economic development plan that the government and the people have embraced.

The rest of us are just helping them to implement it. And I would urge you not to give up on Haiti as a lost cause, because we can get through this. And it is even more important now that we honor the wishes of the Haitian people and the government to help become their partners and liberate them from 200 years of misery. They can still do it.

But first things first. We have got to care for the survivors, identify those who have died, reunite them with their families and deal with these basic problems.

To individuals, I would tell you that these are good people. Yes, Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere. Yes, 70 percent of the people or more live on $2 a day or less. Yes, they have had a long and tortured history.

But they are good people. They are survivors. They are intelligent. They thrive in their diaspora communities. They desperately want to reclaim their country and give it a better future. And they need your help now.

A lot of us at the U.N., we believe in them. And a lot of us today are pretty low, because we know that some of our colleagues have died because they believed in Haiti. These people deserve a chance to bury their dead, to heal their wounded, to eat, to sleep, to begin to recover, and they can’t do it just with government help alone.

They need you, too. If you can give $1, $5, $10, you can send it to clintonfoundation.org/haitiearthquake, or you can send it to UNICEF or the CARE or the Red Cross/Red Crescent. We will get that money out. And little donations add up to big amounts.

In the Asian tsunami, 250,000 people died, Americans gave $1 billion. The median contribution was $56. Half the people gave it over the Internet, and that was five years ago — $5 or $10 can make a huge difference.

These people are just like you, and they are hurting now. There are people who are missing their spouses, their children, their brothers, their sisters, their parents. We are going to save as many of them as we can. And with your help, we are going to help them begin again.

Just a few days ago, blogs were circulating new evidence of Bill Clinton’s rumored extramarital dalliances after leaving the White House. He was a piece of history, on the sidelines, watching his legacy erode. Now he is back, doing what he does best, perhaps better than anyone else in world.

To read Clinton’s piece in TIME magazine, visit a newsstand near you, or click here.