By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
Before I finish a thought that began on the air last night, a story from this morning:
We were midway through our morning editorial conference call when someone said, "Look at what's on MSNBC!" -- It was a live picture of smoke rolling out the windows of the Executive Office Building next to the White House. I immediately reeled back to my time years ago as a White House intern. I knew the massive building almost by heart -- I could tell from the windows and balcony exactly where the fire was burning, and I even remembered details (the floor, the ceiling, the vice president's desk with the signatures under glass in the drawer, the bullet-proof glass shields -- everything down to the light switches and fixtures) from the many tours I had led down that hall and through that room. I shudder to think of the history lost in the fire, not to mention the beauty of the offices and furnishings, the records and telecommunications equipment and the water and smoke damage for several floors above and below the fire. (We're trying to confirm a report that all firefighters entering the building had to be accompanied by Secret Service -- before they could fight the fire. If true, it is the bureacracy of security run amok, and someone should probably lose their job over it.)
The magnificent 19th century building, now officially called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, once housed the Departments of State, War and the Navy. For years, it was known as the Old Executive Office Building, and despite my love for President Eisenhower, I will forever call the building the "OEOB," as a lot of Washington veterans do (the same people who still call the airport "National"). I was stunned to see the live pictures of the unfolding disaster. I understand there was one injury: a Marine who cut himself breaking out a window.
We have a number of visitors in the studio tonight: correspondents Ian Williams, Janet Shamlian, and TIME Magazine Editor Rick Stengel, on his "Person of the Year" cover choice, Vladimir Putin. My nominee? Mother Earth. I lost.
Now -- about last night. I mentioned on the air to Anne Thompson that Richard Nixon lit the national Christmas Tree in 1973 -- but it wasn't much of a lighting ceremony -- there was ONE LIGHT on the tree due to the "energy crisis" at the time. Nixon pledged to a program that would make us "energy independent" by 1980. How's that program going, exactly?
To that end, a selection of similar quotes follow... including Nixon's original. Read, think about it, and enjoy.
Let us set as our national goal, in the spirit of Apollo, with the determination of the Manhattan Project, that by the end of this decade we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources. Let us pledge that by 1980, under Project Independence, we shall be able to meet America's energy needs from America's own energy resources.
-- President Richard Nixon, November 7, 1973
This year we will drive a little slower. This year the thermostats will be a little lower. This year every American perhaps will sacrifice a little, but no one will suffer. But we will do it for a great goal, the goal, first, of seeing to it that in a year when our energy supplies are not as high as we need, we can prepare for the future, and also a year in which America will make a great stride forward toward a new, great goal, and that is, by the year 1980 this Nation, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary of independence in 1976-by 1980 will celebrate Project Independence, when we are independent of any other country in the world where our energy supply is concerned.
-- President Richard Nixon, December 14, 1973 (lighting the national Christmas tree, with just one light at the top)
By 1985 -- 10 years from now -- the United States will be invulnerable to foreign energy disruptions or oil embargoes such as we experienced last year.
-- President Gerald Ford, January 13, 1975
This country needs to regain its independence from foreign sources of energy, and the sooner the better.
-- President Gerald Ford, May 27, 1975
We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.
-- President Jimmy Carter, April 18, 1977
In little more than two decades we've gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof.
-- President Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1979
We don't need an Energy Department to solve our basic energy problem. As long as we let the forces of the marketplace work without undue interference, the ingenuity of consumers, business, producers, and inventors will do that for us.
-- President Ronald Reagan, September 24, 1981
We are, I will be the first to concede, a long way from total energy independence. Our imports of foreign oil have been climbing steadily since 1985 and now stand at 42 percent of our total consumption. Too many of those oil imports come from sources in troubled parts of the world.
-- President George H.W. Bush, January 20, 1991
We should be trying to become less energy dependent.
-- President Bill Clinton, July 15, 1996
One of the most serious long-term challenges facing our country is dependence on oil, especially oil from foreign lands... Because this dependence harms us economically through high and volatile prices at the gas pump. Dependence creates pollution and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. It threatens our national security by making us vulnerable regimes in unstable regions of the world. It makes us vulnerable to terrorists who might attack oil infrastructure.
-- President George W. Bush, today -- December 19, 2007
We hope you can join us tonight, as always.