When I look at America from here, I worry. China is now our main economic partner and competitor. Sure, China has big problems. Nevertheless, I hope Americans see China’s rise as the 21st-century equivalent of Russia launching the Sputnik satellite — a challenge to which we responded with a huge national effort that revived our education, infrastructure and science and propelled us for 50 years. Unfortunately, the Cheneyites want to make fighting Al Qaeda our Sputnik. Others want us to worry about some loopy remark Senator Harry Reid made about the shade of Obama’s skin.

Well, what is our national project going to be? Racing China, chasing Al Qaeda or parsing Harry? Of course, to a degree, we need to both race China and confront Al Qaeda — but which will define us?