My request for President Obama is simple, really: Dust off the secret presidential SCUBA suit, invite the Senate’s biggest oil-industry shills on a “fact-finding mission” to the Gulf (promise shrimp cocktails if necessary), and use them to plug up BP’s hole.

Failing that, Obama could start talking about the connection between the oil gusher, climate change, our crippling national dependency on fossil fuels, and the need for a wholesale shift to clean energy.

Fortunately, after a tepid defense of offshore drilling and a maddening silence about the big energy picture, he’s finally starting to do just that, talking about renewable energy and the Gulf fiasco in the same speeches.

From a San Francisco fundraiser yesterday:

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The reason that folks are now having to go down a mile deep into the ocean, and then another mile drilling into the ground below, that is because the easy oil fields and oil wells are gone, or they’re starting to diminish.

That tells us that we’ve got to have a long-term energy strategy in this country. And we’ve got to start cultivating solar and wind and biodiesel. And we’ve got to increase energy efficiency across our economy in our buildings and our automobiles.

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Today at the Solyndra solar panel plant in Fremont, Calif:

Climate change poses a threat to our way of life — in fact, we’re already beginning to see its profound and costly impact.  And the spill in the Gulf, which is just heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources … 

Fifteen years ago, the United States produced 40 percent of the world’s solar panels — 40 percent.  That was just 15 years ago.  By 2008, our share had fallen to just over 5 percent.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to cede American leadership in this industry, because I’m not prepared to cede America’s leadership in the global economy. 

So that’s why we’ve placed a big emphasis on clean energy … But we’ve still got more work to do, and that’s why I’m going to keep fighting to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation in Washington. We’re going to try to get it done this year, because what we want to do is create incentives that will fully unleash the potential for jobs and growth in this sector.

“We’re going to try to get it done this year” doesn’t presage a full-court press.  But it’s a step in the right direction. 

Next up, Obama is set to announce new offshore drilling regulations on Thursday — another opportunity to talk fundamentals. On Friday, he’ll travel to the Gulf to prove his commitment to stopping the bleeding gash in the Gulf. It’s his best opportunity yet to influence how the country talks about the state of its energy system.

Lots of smart thinkers on the left have been arguing that it’s naïve and ineffectual to demand that Obama somehow “do more” to get the country on a progressive track; he can’t change the country — and certainly can’t change the minds of intransigent senators — on his own.

But the BP spill might be big enough to alter the dynamics. Americans can now see with their own eyes what’s so wrong with our energy system.  A new CBS poll found a marked drop in public support for domestic offshore drilling-down 17 percent since two summers ago-meaning that more Americans now oppose offshore exploration than support it. There’s an opening for fundamental change. 

“Honestly, I have not reacted to anything with this much impotent despair since 9/11,” writes an Andrew Sullivan reader. “Not even Abu Ghraib and our collective, in effect, non-reaction to it made me feel more negative about the likely course of our society in the remaining decades of my lifetime.”

Oof-that sounds like a citizen ready for a bold plan. Obama, by directing the media’s and the public’s attention to the need for a massive energy shift, can give the issue more of a boost than it’s gotten in decades.  He can make the point that climate and clean-energy legislation is desperately needed, now.  If Americans follow his lead, they could — yes, I’m being hopeful here — put enough pressure on other elected officials (senators) to get moving on an energy bill and other critical policy changes. I get all tingly thinking about it.