Constitution Day is designated every year on Sept. 17, and federal law requires that public schools focus on the topic.
Unfortunately, a provision of the Constitution that is extraordinarily important has not been emphasized by educators. As a result, many in America today either don't know of this provision's existence or fear its use.
It is found in Article V of the document and describes the ultimate power of the American people, acting through their state governments, to control virtually everything the federal government does -- from runaway spending, to federal interference, to taxes, to energy development, to education grants, to ... you name it.
Everything. Literally. The states, acting on behalf of the people, have the right -- and the unchallenged power -- to reshape the federal government any way they want.
Did you know this? More than likely, you will say no.
If someone were to ask you to describe the parts of government, you might answer, "Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches." And if you're above average, you might add that each of these three parts of government acts as a "check" or "balance" on the other two.
But if those are your answers, you have a gaping hole in your education. You were not adequately instructed about Article V.
Imagine a see-saw at the park, which tilts back and forth on a center fulcrum. Think of this see-saw as America's form of government.
Now imagine the federal Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches all clustered on one of the see-saw's seats. The weight is heavy, and the see-saw tilts to the ground. Federal power hardens and seems insurmountable. Something needs to occupy the other seat to bring balance back to the system.
That something is the states. Together, they weigh more than the federal government -- a lot more, according to the Constitution itself. A minimum of 38 states on the see-saw's other seat drives the balance back the other way. Now the state side tilts to the ground. They have the power.
But to achieve that weight, they must act in unison. One state alone is not enough to overcome runaway federal power, interference and mismanagement. But when, under the Constitution, three-fourths of the states -- 38 of them -- combine for a single objective, they overrule the feds. They get their way.
The founders of this nation wisely placed Article V in the Constitution as a fail-safe mechanism to control a grasping, runaway federal government. They envisioned a nation not of servants or paupers reaching for federal handouts. Their vision was a system where the people, acting through their states, had ultimate power. In their vision, if the federal government got out of control the states would yank its chain and remind it of who's boss.
And yet the states have never once, since the founding of the nation, combined to check runaway federal power. Most states, for example, require balanced budgets by law, and it would be good for the federal government to do the same. But it doesn't. It uses the printing press and public debt to do whatever it wants.
The states have the power to force the federal government to have a balanced budget, but they have never used it.
Historians will note that there have been many attempts by states to form a coalition large enough to force constitutional amendments on important matters. Many times, a number of states have agreed on some measure but fallen short on the number required to force an amendment -- such as a balanced budget amendment.
Why have the states been so weak? Is it because their legislatures are composed largely of ordinary people, not career politicians looking for a free ride in Washington? Is it because they have never, since 1789, the year the Constitution was ratified, bothered to communicate with one another about common concerns? Both of these answers are likely true.
But in 2012, the chances of America going over the falls financially looms large. American credit is degrading. The grip of the federal government has tightened for decades, so that now we are fast becoming slaves to its mechanisms. It takes our money and then dishes it out again as it sees fit.
And most Americans just accept all this as normal, even though they may not agree with federal priorities -- things like the massive federal seizure of the health care system.
We have suggested many times on this page that the states must exercise their power under Article V of the Constitution or risk losing much of what America is. They need to amend the Constitution to clean up the problems.
Ironically, it is the far-right conservatives who object to invoking state power under Article V. It is they who claim to revere the wisdom of the founders in the framing of the Constitution, and yet they quake and tremble at the thought of stepping up to restrain the federal government as the founders themselves intended.
Their resistance is as unfounded and absurd as it is contradictory. They fear that an effort by states to amend the Constitution would "run away" and we'd lose the whole shooting match.
Such an outcome is virtually impossible. That magical, quintessentially American number -- 13 -- is all it takes to prevent the destruction of our precious founding document. It only takes 13 states to stop a bad idea. And what that really means is that 13 individual legislative bodies, a senate or a house in any state, can stop a bad idea because a negative vote in either body prevents the state from going along with it.
That is a staggeringly huge safety margin -- 13 of 99 legislative bodies.
Have no fear, United States of America. Do your duty as it was designed by your Founding Fathers. If once you successfully invoke Article V, you will do it again. And again. And when you do, the see-saw will find its proper balance.
Constitution Day provides a good opportunity to ponder.