“We need to talk about the things that we are for.”

Ed Gillespie urges Republicans to put forward positive agenda in speech to Ripon Society’s annual symposium 
Gillespie at 2014 symposium

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Former Republican National Committee Chairman and Counselor to the President Ed Gillespie appeared before a legislative symposium sponsored by The Ripon Society this past Friday, delivering a Keynote Address in which he not only urged Republicans to put forward a positive agenda for the American people, but criticized Democrats for pushing an agenda that put people out of work. 

“We need to talk about the things that we are for,” Gillespie stated. “We’re pretty united in what we’re against. We know what’s not working. We see it every day, and the American people see it every day. But what we’re for takes a lot more work. We know that our principles are in the best interest of the country. We can see the lousy economy that we’re dealing with right now. We can see the lost jobs. We can see the lower take-home pay. We can see the higher health care costs and the higher energy prices that are squeezing working Americans. We have to utterly reject the notion that liberals would have the American people believe that this is the new normal. The new normal is the old mediocre, and we can do better. This is not our fate. This is a matter of poor policy decisions that have been made. We can turn things around and make things better with the right policies.” 

“To me, one of the most disconcerting things we see from this administration and their allies in Congress is not just that they kill jobs, but that they’re undermining the American work ethic. We see it in their policies all the time, most clearly in the Affordable Care Act. We saw the CBO study — two and a half million less jobs in our economy over the next decade as a result of the disincentives that are built into that legislation. And the White House celebrates this. The White House said this is a good thing because when people work less…that’s a good thing for our country and our economy because people would be free to pursue their hobbies. That’s what they said. That’s their view — that we are better off as a country with more people working less and spending more time playing Candy Crush. It is absurd. But that’s their view of the world. 

“They think it is a great thing to increase the minimum wage and destroy half a million entry level jobs — the first rung on the economic ladder for so many Americans. Now, there are people—a very slight percentage—that we know make the minimum wage and are the head of their household. We should help those people. But we can help those people without destroying the 500,000 entry level jobs that give people the opportunity to get into the workforce. A lot of these people are first time entrants to the workforce — second earners in a family, teenagers, young people. Give them the opportunity to find out what it means to earn a paycheck, to get to work on time, to experience the dignity of work. And that’s what’s so important here. Because we understand as conservatives and people who believe in free markets and free people that there’s not just economic value in labor and people. There is human dignity in work, and we need to make sure that more people experience that dignity. Our policies would do that. We need to promote that with vigor.” 

Gillespie made this statement at The Ripon Society’s 4th Annual Legislative and Communications Directors Symposium on Leadership, which was held on Friday, March 7th. A group of about 200 senior policy and communications aides attended the day-long event, which also featured presentations by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, political prognosticator Charlie Cook, and top members of the House Republican Leadership staff, among others. In his remarks, the former presidential adviser – who announced his own candidacy for the Senate from Virginia earlier this year — also touched on his family’s history, and why the decisions that are made this year will have a critical impact on future generations down the road. 

“My father came here from Ireland as a boy because his father found work here as a janitor,” Gillespie recalled. “My grandfather worked from 6:00 at night until 2:00 in the morning at a big bank building in Philadelphia. After the bank closed, he would go in and empty the waste baskets and mop the floors on the ground floor, and he would work his way up that building over an eight hour shift to the top floor. The last thing he would do is polish the big wooden table in the board room. He’d get home around 2:45 in the morning. My parents never went to college. They’re two of the smartest people I’ve ever known—believe me—and two of the hardest working. But they never went to college. They insisted that I go, and that my brothers and sisters go. We were the first generation on either side of the family to go to college and get college degrees. 

“I went to Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I helped work my way through as a Senate parking attendant. You’d see people like me with the jackets with the logo and we would make sure you didn’t mess up the line coming into the park on the parking lot. Seven o’clock in the morning to 10:00 in the morning — not always easy for a junior in college who is from a big Irish Catholic family to get there at 7:00 in the morning. But I managed to do it. And I’m hopeful in November to become the first person to go from the Senate parking lot to the Senate floor. But I got to grow up to be the Counselor to the President of the United States of America. From an immigrant janitor to working in the Oval Office serving the leader of the free world in two generations time. What a country. But we’re losing that as a result of these policies. We can turn things around with the right ideas — the right positive agenda — to put forward for the American people in this election and in the next election so that we can have a governing majority when we win. And we will win. But we need to have a positive agenda just like we did with the Contract with America.” 

After his remarks, Gillespie — who helped author the Contract with America as a congressional aide in the early 1990s – was asked by a member of the audience about the lessons he learned from his time on the Hill and any advice he had for congressional staff members today. 

“We tend to talk too much in process terms,” he declared. “I try to be disciplined about it. That’s why, when I just spoke about our policies, I talked about more jobs, higher take-home pay, lower health care premiums, lower energy prices, putting $20 down for gas. Most people, by the way, don’t even fill their tank when they buy gas. They put down a $20 or $10 bill and they get as much as they can at that moment. We need to talk in those terms and understand that. We say, ‘Repeal Obamacare.’ That’s a process argument. Bringing down health care costs, allowing you to keep the doctor you care about … We have to talk in terms that resonate with people in everyday life and make those lives better. But we too often talk in process. We have to discipline ourselves and guard against that. We can’t talk short-hand all the time. Short-hand is great with our base, but it doesn’t resonate with those voters in the middle who are very concerned right now about the fact that they’re working 28-hours a week instead of 40-hours a week for wages because of these mandates and regulations.” 

Gillespie was also asked about today’s 24/7 news environment, and the importance of communicating a clear and concise message in this age of social media. 

“There are so many ways for us to get the word out, and we need to take advantage of all of those,” he observed. “To a certain extent, a congressional office or a campaign is its own media outlet now. My goal is to have a list of people who get information from me that’s bigger than the circulation of the Washington Post. I think I’ll be able to do that. That’s remarkable, and it’s a good thing for those of us who have a conservative perspective to have the ability to have media outlets that share our point of view. For years, there were media organizations that were political outlets that did not share our point of view. We can equalize and offset that now with new media. It is important. 

“I think Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Instagram all matter in their own way for us to get information out there. But we have to work overtime to make sure that people have accurate information. I always used to joke when I was a press secretary on the Hill that I don’t believe in reincarnation. But if I did, I’d want to come back as a Democrat press secretary. It’s a nice life. You say it, they write it, no follow up questions — great. So we have to work a little bit harder. But in this new media environment, we can get that information out. And it’s very important to what we do.” 

To view Gillespie’s Keynote Address to The Ripon Society’s 4th Annual Legislative and Communications Directors Symposium on Leadership on March 7th, please click on the link below: 

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.