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Restless Goalposts: Is NAACP Even Relevant?


Thirty years ago, a group of mothers who had lost children to drunk drivers organized a group called MADD. They had a legitimate beef. There were too many drunks on the road.


To Americans at the time, drinking and driving was a national pastime. We would routinely take risks that are unheard of today. More than one state would actually allow you to have an alcoholic drink in your hand while you were behind the wheel. (The joke was that in Texas, it was mandatory.)

The MADD lobbying and national awareness effort was quite successful, and within a few years, drunk-driving accidents had been reduced. Terms like “designated driver” started to sweep the national zeitgeist. The comedy boom of the eighties (where I cut my chops) was fueled in part by the crackdown, since comedy made it possible to be entertained in a bar, without becoming profusely incoherent.

But then something strange happened. The Mothers didn’t stop being mad. Rather than celebrate their happy victory, they cracked down even harder. They promoted seat belt laws and roadblocks. In 2000 they lobbied to get the legal blood alcohol down to 0.08% ; a level that most competent drinkers could handle safely. Comedian Doug Stanhope once joked that he was a better driver at 0.08% than his grandmother was completely sober.

Meanwhile the percentage of drivers getting arrested kept increasing, to the point where the stigma of a DUI conviction was no longer negative. At cocktail parties, people will sometimes play a strange version of Liars Poker, where they compare each other’s court recorded BAC, to see who has the highest.

The negative side of the tighter enforcement has been met with contempt for the law. Since 2000, studies indicate that alcohol related traffic incidents have actually been increasing, after decreasing for two decades. In a truly Kafkaesque twist, MADD leaders started getting arrested for DUIs.

And still the Mothers rage on. (In fact they’re not even really mothers anymore, the CEO of MADD is a man.) In a recent article, the future of MADD is laid out, a zero tolerance for alcohol, (which could lead to the arrest of people using mouthwash, cough syrup, or cookie dough ice cream with a little too much vanilla extract). A big clue to their continued existence is also suggested: the 30 million dollars that is paid out in salaries. Once you start raking in some serious cash, it’s hard to close up shop.

The same thing happened with the NAACP. Once a necessary organization, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People advanced colored people so far, that we can’t even call them colored people. They advanced through Jim Crow, through desegregation and eventually into the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and now the highest office in the land. They have also advanced in sports and the arts, and right now Oprah Winfrey is the richest self-made woman in the world.

How much further can you advance? It seems to me, that when three out of five letters in your acronym no longer apply, you should probably disband. Because all that is left for you to do now, is embarrass yourself. The Tea Party / Shirley Sherrod debacle is a great example of what happens when a group has grown far past it’s successful mission.

The NAACP is today as pathetic today as Hugh Hefner– patriarch of a revolution that ended forty years ago; looking as natural in pajamas as any other man of his age and health; although his claim of virility seems forced and almost laughable.

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