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How Ted Kennedy Helped Bill Clinton Win Reelection

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The New Yorker has unlocked its Kennedy archives and given free access to a number of revealing profiles. One of the fines is also one of the most recent, a 1997 portrait by Elsa Walsh that highlights Kennedy's little known role in President Clinton's 1996 reelection.

Kennedy shaped Clinton's reelection theme after the bloodbath of 1994, when the GOP took over both the House and the Senate and Mitt Romney had threatened to knock off Kennedy himself.

"Unions, minorities, women, gays, education groups, and the health community all worked like hell for me and helped the campaign enormously. Hard to head into 1996 without enthusiastic support of our base," Kennedy wrote to Clinton. The Republican Revolution, Kennedy predicted, would not stand the test of the American voter. "Their harshness will not wear well over time," he predicted accurately.

Kennedy was adept at mixing his preferred policy with his politics. He urged Clinton to make the next budget he submitted a "a political document, not a policy document." The centrist Clinton was inclined to cut spending, but Kennedy urged him not to -- because when the Republicans did it on their own, Democrats would be in a better position to challenge them.

Medicare, he said, was the most important program to protect. "'No cuts to Medicare except for health-care reform' will be a great 'wedge' issue if we can keep the distinction clear," Kennedy argued.

The piece also includes Kennedy's famous minimum-wage speech that he gave his wavering colleagues after the '94 wipeout. Kennedy was pushing for an increase in the bottom wage despite the loss and was getting push back behind closed doors.

"What are we?" he thundered. "We're Democrats...How can we possibly say this? This is core Democratic material. This is our people. These are working people. These are the people we've got to fight for."

Somehow, buried in the minority, he won: Kennedy pushed through a hike in the minimum wage.

The rest of the piece is here and more of the magazine's profiles are here.