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In Michigan, Obama on Energy

LANSING, Mich–On the campaign trail there are announcements and then there are announcements.

Obama chose to unveil the details of his energy plan here–the center of 20th-century American industrial greatness and 21st-century economic hardship — saying: "If I am president, I will immediately direct the full resources of the federal government and the full energy of the private sector to a single, overarching goal: in 10 years, we will eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela. To do this, we will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years, and leverage billions more in private capital, to build a new energy economy that harnesses American energy and creates five million new American jobs."

Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have evoked John F. Kennedy’s pledge in the early part of his unfinished term to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. This has largely revolved around energy — for a plan to eliminate the need for foreign oil through alternative sources. McCain dubbed his plan "The Lexington Project," named for the town in Massachusetts that saw the beginning of the miracle that was the American Revolution. And for several weeks now, Obama has talked about an "Apollo-like" need for a project that would help create a country independent of foreign sources of energy.

However, having covered both campaigns, I was eerily reminded of a McCain speech when Obama later said today, "We’ll find safer ways to use nuclear power and store nuclear waste. And we’ll invest in the technology that will allow us to use more coal, America’s most abundant energy source, with the goal of creating five ‘first-of-a-kind’ coal-fired demonstration plants with carbon capture and sequestration." That’s because this is standard in any McCain speech — usually right after "Now My Friends…."

True, Obama’s said similar things before. But one has to wonder if he will have to expand on that in the near future. Already the liberal base of his party has bristled at the centrist moves he’s made since the start of the general election. Further, the images of Republican delegates yelling "flip-flop!" at Madison Square Garden in 2004 whenever the Democratic nominee John Kerry was mentioned must remain a stark image in the minds of the Democratic leadership. Now one can only brace for the attacks that Obama’s support of nuclear power and coal is likely to produce.

Indeed, what Obama’s really created for himself is a lot more work. He will have to acknowledge whatever positive benefits will be available with the use of both energy sources, while trying to differentiate himself and his plan from a man who’s made two issues — energy and The Surge — the center of his campaign. Already working on a thin high-wire, Obama will have to maneuver that much more to reach the end he so desperately wants.

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