I just read the energy speech Obama gave on Tuesday in Nevada. I’d call it a TKO if I didn’t sound so unconvincing using boxing metaphors.

Watch what he leads with: "A green, renewable energy economy isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, far-off future, it is now."

This is what the campaign, correctly in my judgment, has decided people need to hear first and foremost: It’s happening. People just like you, who live around here, are getting jobs doing this stuff.

The Obama campaign is way ahead of most pundits and politicians on this issue. They’ve realized that in the fight for sane energy policy, you don’t need the environmental message (climate change is mentioned just once, in the context of criticizing McCain for empty rhetoric). You need economic competitiveness, security from scary dictators, and a sense of collective purpose. It’s about translating the "green economy" abstraction into nuts and bolts.

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There’s nothing wrong with "the environment" of course, and Obama’s called it out before, but he’s casting a wide enough net now that he pulls in plenty of people who don’t give a frack about polar bears and icebergs.

And he just dismantles McCain. It’s one jab after another. Like this one, about the $300 million prize McCain proposes for new electric car battery:

When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win — he put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people.

Or this one, on the universally debunked claim from McCain that offshore oil drilling would bring "short-term relief," which McCain has since … modified:

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Just yesterday, Senator McCain actually admitted this. In a town hall he said, and I quote, "I don’t see an immediate relief" but "the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial." Psychological impact. In case you were wondering, that’s Washington-speak for, "It polls well." 

That’s going to leave a mark. Thing is, none of this is mudslinging. He’s hitting McCain on legitimate policy differences. He’s just doing it with a little flair.

Now listen to McCain’s return blow:

"On this energy issue, yeah, it’s easy to say ‘no’ to everything," Mr. McCain said. "That’s what Senator Obama is doing. We’ve got to come forward with bold proposals, innovative ones, and ones that will bring this nation to energy independence for national security reasons as well as others."

Feeble and off-key. This is what you get when you ask your granddad about a new rock band. It becomes pretty clear he can’t follow the tune. And the tune voters just heard from Obama is full of Yes: new energy, new jobs, new opportunities, new leadership. Meanwhile, as for “bold” and “innovative” proposals, it’s tough to see how drilling for oil and serving pork to the nuclear industry, whatever their merits, fit that bill. That’s singin’ to the oldies.

McCain and Obama agree on high-toned energy rhetoric, but this is just like when Democrats used to try to finesse the national security issue by going Bush-lite. A choice between Bush and Bush-lite will always go to Bush. A choice between two guys who agree on the need for new energy policy will go to the guy who’s offering it up, not the guy who’s lip-syncing the words.

I don’t know if this stuff will register in the polls — there still aren’t enough people paying attention to it — but as far as I can tell Obama is completely outflanking McCain on the energy issue, and winning on substance to boot. He’s got an increasingly honed message while McCain is being buffeted about the demands of his base, tripping over his inch-deep grasp of policy, and flip-flopping so fast he’s already done on both sides. And it’s only June.

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