Aspirations and Limits of Government

I've spent much of my adult life learning and teaching about government. That's not meant to say that I have greater insight than anyone else on the subject; it's meant to provide context. I think about the subject often. Yesterday, while sitting in my classroom, I caught a whiff of something that reminded me of family trips to Island Beach State Park in New Jersey when I was a child. It's the smell of sunscreen, salt air, french fries, and parking lot asphalt all rolled into one. I don't know where it came from. I don't live anywhere near the beach, and the smell lasted no more than an instant, but there it was. It was strong enough and distinct enough to transport me back to Island Beach in the 1960s. I couldn't escape the memory for much of the day, which was fine because it's a pleasant memory. And then for some reason (see above) I started thinking about the role that government played in creating that memory. Island Beach was (and probably still is) a state park. It's a beautiful strip of dunes and beach set aside for the public's enjoyment. There was a small fee required to access the lone road leading to the two beach pavilion parking lots, and there was a limit on the number of people the park would accommodate on a busy summer day. The pavilions weren't fancy. They were utilitarian, clean, and serviceable. The park provided access to those of modest or less-than-modest means to recreation in a beautiful setting, and it did so without pretense or pampering. The collective wisdom of the residents of the State of New Jersey was on display. Some things are worth pursuing or preserving for the public good, and they needn't be opulent or ostentatious. In a most unexpected way, Island Beach State Park revealed itself to me last night as a fine metaphor for the aspirations and limits of government.