Photo by Nick Knupffer.

The Obama administration has learned from history, it seems. They’re not going to sit passively by as their opponents demagogue gas prices. This week they’ve gone on the offensive, with the president giving a series of interviews and speeches, including a major address today at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Md.

Most of the details from today’s speech were familiar from previous speeches. Obama argued that his administration has substantially increased oil and gas drilling, but that drilling will never be enough to reduce gas prices or make America independent of imported energy. Thus, America needs to invent and build new technologies to produce clean energy and use less energy.

That’s all been said before (though obviously nothing’s wrong with repeating it). There was, however, a new theme in the speech, tying all these points together. I don’t know if it’s entirely new, but I’ve never heard it emphasized as much. And since it’s a theme I’ve been pushing for years (clearly Obama is reading my blog), I was quite gratified to see it.

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It’s simply this: the past vs. the future. In his prepared remarks, he said a state of constant vulnerability to events overseas is …

… not the future I want for the United States of America. We can’t allow ourselves to be held hostage to events on the other side of the world. That’s not who we are. In this country, we control our own destiny. We chart our own course. An energy strategy for the last century is one that traps us in the past. What we need now is an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy — not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power; biofuels and fuel-efficient cars and trucks that get more miles to the gallon. That’s the future. That’s where I want to take this country.

And again:

The point is, there are always cynics and naysayers who want to do things the same way we’ve always done them. To double down on the same ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. But the only reason we’ve come this far as a nation is because we refuse to stand still. Because we put our faith in the future. Because we are inventors and builders and makers of things. We’re Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. That’s who we are. That’s who we need to be right now.

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And again:

Maryland, we know what direction we have to go in. We can let these politicians take us back to an energy strategy for the last century, or we can invest in a serious, sustained, all-of-the-above energy strategy that develops every resource available for the 21st century. That’s the choice we have — the past, or the future. And it’s a choice we have to make.

I’ve been saying this forever. There is no part of the American character more deeply rooted than our belief in the future, that we can build and create and make things better. That belief has taken a battering in the last few decades, but there’s still an immense hunger to recapture that spirit.

That’s the tale Obama is telling: Some politicians want to keep us in the past by subsidizing oil and gas and dismissing advanced energy technologies. I want us to embrace the future.

Now, admittedly, there’s some tension here. It’s a bit tricky to be boasting of oil and gas development one second and touting the brave new green future the next. But let’s not be wonky and literalist about this. Obama is trying to carve out a space for real, sustained support for alternative energy. That’s a tricky task in the current political environment. Once that space is carved out, once there’s widespread enthusiasm of the sort you see now in the German public, then we can revisit fossil policy.

But for now, it’s about reframing, shifting the big-picture debate. This speech is a nice step on that path.