Previously, I wrote about how the American dream is fading away for many of our nation’s youth. Basically, the American dream means that no matter who you are, or what your background is, you can make it in America. Several factors are making it much harder for our children to realize the American dream, such as: more dysfunctional homes and single-parent families, lack of community support groups, under-funded schools, the high cost of a college education, crime and urban decay. Government can’t solve all these problems, but it has an important role to play.

Good government is like a three-legged stool. One leg is safety and security; a second leg is children’s health and nutrition, and the third leg is education and training. The better a government does at providing or ensuring that these three essential services are provided, the greater the opportunities will be for young people to climb the ladder of success. Recent studies show that the United States is pulling back from its efforts to enable poor and disadvantaged children, and even middle-class children, to achieve the upward mobility that their parents had.

We citizens should support strengthening the three-legged stool of good government. To keep the American dream alive, local, state and national governments should take steps to improve our children’s health care, nutrition, education and safety. By so doing, every child in America, regardless of race, religion, gender or geographic location will have an equal opportunity to be all that he or she can be – depending only on their talents, how they apply themselves in school, and how hard they work. It’s a dream worth keeping alive.

There is one other step that the federal government could take for our nation’s youth. Today, many young people are unemployed and floundering. Too many of them are feeling hopeless and committing violent crimes or suicide. Now is a good time for Congress to pass a “National Service Act,” requiring everyone at age 18 to do one or two years of national service in a wide variety of military, infrastructure, humanitarian and environmental activities. Our communities will benefit greatly, and our youth will learn about the value of service to others. Sadly, Congress seems to lack the vision necessary for such a bold initiative. Likewise, we private citizens seem unwilling or unable to put our petty, partisan bickering aside to help find solutions to our nation’s real problems.

Regarding security: It’s great that Congress is asserting its war powers under the Constitution; the president is seeking Congressional approval for an attack on Syria. It looks like there will be a serious debate. Maybe the House and Senate will even cast recorded votes on a military strike, and vote on any future U.S. wars. As immoral and horrible as the war in Syria is, the U.S. should not act alone. Before using military force in places such as Syria where our vital national security is not at stake, we should have the backing of the United Nations, or NATO, or a regional organization like the Arab League (preferably all three). At present, none of these organizations supports a U.S. assault, and nobody knows what the unintended consequences of our action would be.

Also, there were a couple of errors in my previous column. First, I said that the federal budget deficit and the national debt were decreasing faster than anybody expected. This is partly true: the federal budget deficit is shrinking faster than anybody expected. The national debt? Not so much. Second, I said that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, would provide affordable health insurance for most Americans. Obamacare would extend affordable health insurance to about 30 million Americans who currently are uninsured. Whether this means that “most” Americans would be covered by health insurance, I don’t know.

To clarify, some Republicans in Congress are threatening to shut down the government this September or October in one of two ways. The first way is by failing to appropriate the funds necessary to operate the government; the second way is by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. Either one of these measures would cause a financial crisis and solve nothing. A better way to balance the budget would be to give the Members of Congress and the president an ultimatum: “No budget, no pay.”

Anthony J. DiStefano spent 29 years in state and federal government including working with the Ohio General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and two executive agencies of the federal government.