THE GLOBAL-COMPETITION ARGUMENT…. There are obviously competing approaches to presenting agendas to the public, but I’ve generally been fond of framing challenges as matters of global competition.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) warned Thursday that America needs to embrace clean-energy technologies instead of focusing on oil drilling, “or China is going to eat our lunch.”

Appearing on Fox News, Inslee said he supported a ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, arguing that the reserves there would barely make a dent in the country’s oil needs.

But he stressed that the U.S. needed to shift the argument from where to drill to what energy technologies can replace drilling.

“China right now is preparing to roll out electric cars, lithium ion batteries, solar cells, cellulosic ethanol. This is where the future of energy is. We’ve a finite resource in oil, just like we had a finite resource in whale oil, and we made a transition,” he said. “And we have to really focus our national energies in a bipartisan way, I would hope, on finding our way to compete with China to really build new energy sources of the future.”

The point, in context, was Inslee making the case for the U.S. making a more serious commitment to innovation and clean energy. He’s right about the limited effect of ANWR drilling, but more importantly, he’s also right about global competitors making advances that should be happening here.

President Obama has made a similar case repeatedly in recent years, stressing the fact that countries like China and India “aren’t playing for second place.” There’s a gut-level appeal to messages like these, at least there might be, targeting a certain nationalistic impulse — advancing America’s interests isn’t just about a debate over the size of government, it’s also about positioning the United States as a world leader in a competitive landscape.

When it comes to clean energy, then, Republicans will continue to make the case that science isn’t to be believed and that tax cuts will solve all problems, but Dems have a compelling retort: the GOP way will allow China and other rivals to move pass us, and we shouldn’t sit idly by while this happens.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.