Brookings Now

LBJ at Brookings, 50 years ago

Fred Dews

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Fred Dews

Managing Editor, New Digital Products

On September 29, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed members of the Brookings Institution on the occasion of Brookings’s 50th anniversary. Eugene R. Black, chairman of the board of trustees, and Robert Calkins, president of the Institution, delivered opening remarks.

Robert Calkins, Lyndon Johnson
Brookings President Robert D. Calkins (l) with President Lyndon B. Johnson at the Brookings 50th Anniversary Celebration, September 1966 (Reni News Photo Service)

President Johnson’s address, titled “Government and the Critical Intelligence,” opened as follows:

Half a century ago nine men from business, law, and banking met to chart a course for an Institute for Government Research here in Washington, D.C. Their goals were beyond reproach, but also unlikely to propel other men to the barricades. They sought, in their words, “knowledge of the best methods of administrative organization to be obtained by means of thorough scientific study, so that it may be possible to conduct governmental activities with maximum effectiveness and minimum waste.”

“This must have seemed rather a colorless ideal, however worthy,” President Johnson continued. “Yet two decades later, in the late thirties, a newspaper had this to say about what had become the Brookings Institution:

Brookings publications cause something of a stir in the world. Newspapers print summaries of them on their front pages. Economists, editorial writers, and some politicians cite them much as Fundamentalist preachers draw upon Holy Writ. Although the emotional appeal of these books is nil, their statements have caused many highly places or otherwise prominent persons to yell bloody murder.

 

So the men who studied the federal system from Brookings’ window had already stimulated, if not torchlight parades, a great deal of soul-searching by the administrators of that system.

 

They did not accomplish this by calling for the overthrow of the government. That is certainly one way to get attention, but it is not the best way to bring about desirable change.

 

The men of Brookings did it by analysis, by painstaking research, by objective writing, by an imagination that questioned the ‘going’ way of doing things, and then they proposed alternatives.

 

Because their subject was public policy–the transportation system, the economy, election law, the civil service, labor-management practices–they touched the concerns of every citizen in the land …

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