Nearly a hundred years after Mr. Brookings came to Washington, it’s useful to imagine what he might make of today’s world. Some trends he would find familiar and ominous. For example, Europe—which his generation thought of as “over there”—is grappling with the danger of backsliding into economic disintegration and resurgent nationalism.
Other developments would come as a shock to Robert S. Brookings. As a public-spirited citizen who moved to the nation’s capital when the U.S. was beginning to assert itself as global power, he would recoil at the widespread perception, nine decades later, that America is in decline.
As a successful manufacturer whom Woodrow Wilson recruited to apply sound business principles to government, Mr. Brookings would be aghast at the national deficit and debt and the unfunded obligations of many states.
And as a Republican who served in a Democratic administration, he would be appalled by the extreme partisanship that has threatened to alienate voters, poison civic discourse and paralyze the democratic process.
It’s worth remembering that Mr. Brookings was both a product of and a participant in the social activism and political reform that flourished during the Progressive Era. In the spirit of the time in which he lived, both major parties, even when vying for power, shared a commitment to the judicious use of government power in service of the public good. As a result, the 1916 contest for the White House between Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes was marked by considerable overlap between the Democratic and Republican programs—a far cry from the bruising, bitter and polarizing Obama-Romney campaign of 2012.
All the more reason that Mr. Brookings would be interested in how the Institution that bears his name has evolved.
“Over there” is now just about everywhere. Hence, it is fitting that the world’s first national think tank is increasingly international in scope as well as in the composition of its Board of Trustees, its staff and its leadership.
In addition to the Brookings-Tsinghua Center in Beijing and the Brookings Doha Center covering the Arab world, we have established partnerships and programming in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Northeast Asia. In the year ahead we will be looking to do more work on Southeast Asia, and we hope to open Brookings India, based in New Delhi. Our newly redesigned website, which draws more than a million visits per month, allows us to broadcast events to a global audience and to publish our work in Chinese, Arabic and Spanish.
Robert Brookings would be gratified to see the impact of our research and recommendations on major issues: managing the crisis in the eurozone; upgrading the utility of the G-20; bending the curve of health care costs; mitigating climate change through sustainable energy policies; maximizing the benefits of innovative technology; harnessing entrepreneurial vigor at the level of metropolitan centers; and repairing the dysfunction of fiscal policy and governance at the federal level.
Our scholars are not just informing the public on these and other contentious issues—they are raising the tone of the debate. Wherever Brookings scholars speak out—whether in our seminar rooms, in our in-house TV studio, on the web, in our multiple gateways to social networks, in congressional testimony, or at conferences outside the Beltway or on other continents—they adhere to the ethos personified by our founder and fostered by our Institution, which we strive to make a partisanship-free zone.
I’d like to think that Mr. Brookings would be proud that we have remained true to his values while adapting his vision to challenges that are every bit as demanding as the ones his generation faced.
— Strobe Talbott, President