The Hoover Institution's acting deputy director, John Moore, points to a cardboard carton under the coffee table in his office. It holds the manuscript of a book by Hoover fellows Peter Duignan and Lewis Gann - a history of Hispanic immigration to the United States.
''This is the kind of historical study that will have a lot of importance for policy,'' he says, noting that morning's news about the demise of the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill in Congress.
It's also a good example, says Dr. Moore, of the Hoover Institution's commitment to research that brings ''a longer-range perspective to issues, a component of an historical nature.''
But that doesn't mean there's anything laid back about the approach to public-policy research here at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, to use the full title. On the contrary, many of the ideas formulated by Hoover scholars in recent years have found their way into the highest levels of decisionmaking in Washington - exemplifying, in Moore's words, the belief that ''ideas have consequences.''
Deregulation of the transportation industry, social security reform, and the proposed flat-rate income tax are a few items high on the agendas of Hoover scholars.
Seated in his office atop the beige, red-domed Hoover Tower, which houses much of the institution's renowned library, the Hoover's director for 25 years, W. Glenn Campbell, explains with some firmness that his scholars are not told what they should study. But he takes clear pride in ''the extent to which they're self-starters on important issues.''
Richard Burress, an associate director and senior fellow who has held a wide variety of posts in Washington, puts it this way: ''You get a sense of a problem whose time has come, and that's the time to focus in on it.''
In his office in the tastefully modern Hoover Memorial Building next to the tower, Dr. Moore summarizes what he sees as the differences between Hoover and other prominent public-policy think tanks. ''It's the only one at a major university, the only one with the intellectual resources of our library (a million and a half books and over 4,000 collections), and it's the only one 3, 000 miles away from Washington, D.C.''
That distance from the capital has disadvantages for a think tank which, despite its academic setting in the midst of Stanford University, is clearly committed to an activist role in shaping policy. From here, Mr. Burress notes succinctly, ''You can't hop in a cab and be in someone's office.''
Even with its West Coast location, however, the Hoover has had no problem being influential. Its links to the Reagan administration - a source of both pride and controversy - have been well publicized. Those links have been welded by such scholarly and policymaking work as Martin Anderson's (see accompanying story) and by a rather pervasive, though not universal, conservative leaning among its research fellows.
''Free-marketers have a home here,'' says Melvyncq Krauss, a senior fellow and a fervent apostle of the so-called ''supply side'' theory that advocates a low-tax, high-growth approach to economic development. ''On the other hand,'' he adds, ''people who don't believe in the free market aren't forced out. We have a nice melange here.''
Brookings Institution economist Joseph Pechman, who recently completed a year at the Hoover as a visiting scholar, wouldn't put it quite that way. Dr. Pechman , an adviser to Walter Mondale, compliments Hoover for providing a ''very productive year, good research facilities, and stimulating discussion.'' But when it comes to ideology, he says, ''I found them very conservative, in general , from the director on down.''
All the talk about ideology is beside the point, says senior research fellow John Bunzel, who kids his colleagues by referring to himself as ''Hoover's affirmative-action Democrat.'' Dr. Bunzel, former president of San Jose State University and now one of President Reagan's Democratic appointees to the US Civil Rights Commission, asserts that any research institution - Brookings or Hoover - would be better served if it did not have to be ''billed.'' ''I would not want to be part of an institution that was single-mindedly of one persuasion. I'd find that stale,'' Bunzel says.
There's little question that many of the issues tackled by Hoover fellows cut across partisan or ideological lines. One outstanding example is the work of Thomas G. Moore (no relation to John Moore) on deregulation of the transportation industry. Another is the extensive research on social security reform by Rita Ricardo-Campbell (senior fellow and wife of Hoover director Glenn Campbell). Politicians on both sides of the aisle in Congress have drawn on their efforts.
Dressed in the informal, tieless manner common at Hoover, Dr. Thomas Moore describes how the idea of deregulation got rolling in the late '60s. He was on President Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers, helping form a task force on transportation issues. Its work soon hit a gaping hole in relevant research. That spurred a rush of work by scholars - an outpouring of mental energy that eventually culminated in passage of the 1978 Airlines Deregulation Act. The thinking and writing on the issue were ''a necessary condition for that kind of bill to pass,'' Moore says.
Rita Ricardo-Campbell's work on social security started in the late '50s during a stint on the Wage Stabilization Board. It continued through her appointment to the Quadrennial Advisory Council on Social Security in 1974. Soon thereafter, she wrote ''Social Security: Promise and Reality.''
''I made a lot of proposals for reform - politically naive, but they made economic sense,'' says Dr. Ricardo-Campbell. Enough sense to gain the attention of then-presidential aspirant Ronald Reagan. She later became the chairman of a Reagan campaign task force on social security. The ideas embedded in that task force's report strongly influenced later reform legislation, she says.
Dr. Ricardo-Campbell's experience fits nicely with Martin Anderson's ideas on how policy evolves in the United States - a subject he says he'd like to write a book on. Dr. Anderson sees three main staging areas in the formulation of public policy: first, and most important, the intellectual world (authors, think tanks, journalists); second, the policy world in Washington where laws are framed; and third, what he calls the ''catalyst,'' the world of the presidential campaign, which links the two other areas.
''Every four years,'' Anderson explains, ''you get this process of clarifying policy stands. What happens is, they sit down and suddenly realize they're running for president and they have to take a stand on an inordinate range of issues.'' That, he says, is when the candidates ''scurry around looking for ideas.''
The smart candidates, he adds, are out beating the bushes for ideas far ahead of election year. He expects that political figures like New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and California Gov. George Deukmejian are doing that now. Anderson himself had a direct role in putting Ronald Reagan in touch with ''250 to 300'' scholars in the years just before the 1980 election, including Reagan's first, informal dinner meeting with now Secretary of State George Shultz, then a professor at Stanford's business school.
Anderson considers the time he spent in Washington and in campaigns as ''invaluable to the work I'm doing now'' back at Hoover. Asked about the anti-intellectual inclinations often associated with the President and his supporters, he says simply, ''I never felt it.''
On the other hand, Thomas Moore, who also worked as an adviser to Reagan's ' 80 campaign, perceives a ''certain leeriness'' toward intellectuals among some in the administration. But when it comes to the question of Mr. Reagan's own, often disparaged intellectual capacities, Dr. Moore minces no words:
''I don't want a president who's a deep thinker. The deepest of thinkers was probably Wilson, and he was a total failure. Eisenhower was no intellectual and was probably the most successful postwar president. You need a man who's a leader - who'll make decisions. And intellectuals don't like to make decisions.''
But intellectuals, especially those at such places as the Hoover Institution, do like to have an effect on the decisions made by those in seats of power. That, in a nutshell, is why public-policy think tanks exist.
The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at a glance Founded: 1919 Personnel: 200 Budget: $10.4 million Endowment: $70 million Funding: 29% Stanford University, 38% individual foundations and corporate gifts , 27% endowment income, 4% publications and fees, 2% other Ideological persuasion: Conservative by reputation, but composed of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans Concentration: The social, political, and economic movements of the 20th century