07/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

POLITICS ZOHN: How Bill Clinton Lost His Way But Found It Again

More people than I can count are aggravated, even downright hostile, to the Clintons, especially Bill. His ranting during the primary campaign was a turn-off to those who had supported him in the past as well as those who abandoned him after they felt abandoned by him long ago.

But I had occasion to see who some longingly refer to as the "old Bill", the one who galvanized hearts and minds when he first set out to win Washington, and the rest of the country, over.
At the Aspen Ideas conference, Clinton gave what could be considered the valedictory closing. Disguised as a Q and A, and the richer and more focused for being a "guided" and not "free" speech, Clinton talked not only of his own foundation's initiatives but of world politics and leaders.

This was not Mayhill's backbiting Clinton. It was a pleasure and a privilege to hear him.

I was so rapt that I missed the exciting performance of Osvaldo Golijov's highly-touted Azul in the music tent right next door, only a few steps away.

Under cloudy skies, in a packed pavilion, Clinton (accompanied suddenly by a front row Chelsea, presumably as hedge against chatter about Bill-sans-Hillary sightings over the Fourth of July weekend) lounged in a low-slung chair, ruddy from days of golf. He looked light years away from the washed out, over-traveled speaker I had heard just a year ago at the Rocky Mountain Institute conference.

Clinton talked about how we had to either figure out how to dump Mugabe and the generals who control him or learn how to co-opt him. ("He's no angel", said Clinton, with a wry grin, "but nobody in politics is.") He emphasized 75 percent of carbon dioxide is created in cities (and now more people than ever are going to come back to the city with gas prices the way they are) and how retrofitting buildings will help lower that number and create jobs at the same time. He reminded Mandela still can give us hope, both personally, as a role model, and as a truly inspiring political leader in strife torn Africa. He rued the lack of systems in developing nations but nominated Liberia as the perfect place to try some real, ground-up initiatives because there are only three million people and no infrastructure at all. He highlighted the French airplane tax called Unite that other nations have adopted which has already reduced the cost of pediatric Aids vaccines. And for my money, the single most important action he insisted on was the universal education of girls, all over the world, as the crucial ingredient in halting population growth. (and I say, everything else on his list too...if women ruled the world etc...)

Like that.

And he made a lot of people in that room who could be doing a great deal more philanthropically sit up and pay attention. This is a theme which cannot be pounded enough: what are YOU doing, within the limits of your own time and resources, to make the world a better place? We need to cultivate the culture of giving as much as any other.

Ok, you are saying, is there anything new in those ideas? And I will tell you, Clinton is paying attention, in between the legendary lapses, in a way that most people aren't. He is putting his not inconsiderable intelligence, and resources-by-connection, to work. His foundation and the book which grew out of it are testament to this energy.

Let's let the guy get back to what he does best. He loves people and he is a giving man as well as being a man of large appetites. He trips over himself, big time, but hearing a truly presidential, curious, wonky intelligence was a tremendous relief after the stumbling and narrow mind that has been holed up in the White House bunker these last eight years. Clinton is best on offense: having to defend HRC was just not his shining moment.

Let's not throw Bill's bountiful baby out with his murky bathwater.

(Special note to readers: this Politics Zohn is the first of a summer-long romp focusing the lens of the Culture Zohn on some of the other exciting sections of the Huffington Post in addition to some special cultural offerings. Be sure to get your feet sandy with me in the Green Zohn, Living Zohn, Chicago Zohn /em> and more....)