Leading Article: Two bad strikes now and Clinton is out

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THIS is a strange American summer indeed. Any normal year, stifling mid-August means no Congress and wall-to-wall baseball. Instead, baseball is shut down by a strike that looks as if it could last for ever, while Congress is trapped in a session that threatens to be only marginally less protracted.

In this out-of-kilter world, the only moot point is where tempers are fouler: between the baseball owners' and players' representatives who swap daily insults on television - or on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats conduct trench warfare over the massive crime and health reform Bills whose snarl-up has so inconveniently delayed their holidays.

These are not propitious times for the fate of a Presidency to be played out. But that is what is happening. Bill Clinton is not up for re-election until November 1996. But if he is to preserve a chance of winning then, he must salvage some kind of victory from Congress in the next few weeks. The definition of victory is not clear, perhaps passage of a crime Bill and postponement of the health one, maybe the other way round. For both to pass would be as miraculous as Yankee Stadium reopening soon.

Whatever Mr Clinton achieves will probably make little difference to the outcome of this November's mid-term elections. The Democrats are resigned to substantial losses in both Senate and the House of Representatives, irrespective of whether they can claim to have acted on the two issues that most concern ordinary voters. For the President, however, the consideration is vital.

Although he still has more than two years to serve, it is plain Mr Clinton will not go down as a great foreign policy President. Nor will he shine as a trustworthy or reliable President. The polls suggest that a majority of Americans may have already decided he does not deserve a second term.

But his cause is not hopeless. He was elected not because of his character, but because he seemed the candidate best equipped to deliver change. Last year's deficit-cutting package was a good start, but this fetid mid-August is the moment of truth. A decent health or crime Bill, and Bill Clinton will have proved, that for all his troubles, he can 'get things done'. Otherwise, his Presidency is probably doomed. Unless, of course, he settles the baseball strike.