One of the dangers of being a minority who rises to prominence in broadcast media is you can be confronted by the most brutal racism on live unedited TV. This is where you need a high IQ to adapt the situation to your advantage (which is how I like to define intelligence). For a great many years I’ve been a HUGE fan of Wolf Blitzer for his no-nonsense attitude and when I heard that he was going to be interviewing David Duke (who in my humble opinion is racist against Jewish people) I was hoping Blitzer would verbally obliterate and humiliate him. Unfortunately, I felt Duke was able to adapt the situation to his advantage by using the forum to unleash all his horrific propaganda and even opportunistically promote his own web page.

I still have enormous respect for Blitzer, but was extremely disappointed in him for doing such an incompetent job standing up for the Jewish people. I know that when the brilliant Lion of the Blogosphere is confronted by anti-Jewish racism, he puts the racists in their place quickly and succinctly, and one of his commentators “The Undiscovered Jew” fights back knowledgeably against any hint of antisemitism.

In contrast to Blitzer’s weak performance above, Oprah’s 2029 cc cranial capacity gave her the IQ to handle racists with style.

When a skinhead called her a monkey and then tried to change the subject, Oprah grabbed him by the arm and said “I want to talk about the monkey business“. This showed lateral thinking because they were literally talking about monkeys but it was a clever pun because the term “monkey business” means “improper or underhanded conduct; trickery” and underhanded trickery perfectly describes the field of racist pseudo-science the skinhead was pushing. Quick wit and one-liners would pave the way for her to become North America’s first multibillionaire black.

When another racist accused Oprah of not doing enough for her people, Oprah shrewdly went for the cheap applause line of “you don’t know me”. Once Oprah got her applause, she cleverly shut her trap rather than allowing the show to become a referendum on how much she does for the less fortunate black people; because back in those days she was less philanthropic and no amount would ever be enough to satisfy her most liberal viewers. While many intelligent people always have something to say, the most intelligent know when to just stop talking.

Lastly, a man asks Oprah whether she approves of inter-racial relationships. Oprah wisely replied “I’m not here to be asked questions.” One of the shrewdest things about Oprah was that that for the first couple decades of her national career, she kept her mouth shut about anything political because she didn’t want to alienate viewers. Instead she just acquired more and more money, and more and more influence to the point that every book she endorsed became a best seller.

Then finally when she was a billionaire and no longer had to worry about making money, she decided to speak out politically for the first time but waited until there was a black person with a serious shot of being president. Because she was so admired and had never before spoken out politically, she possessed an enormous amount of political capital and brilliantly chose to spend it on an election that was close enough that she played the decisive role and thus changed the trajectory of history for black people by catapulting a black man to the white house (a truly unimaginable occurrence).

Any time you speak out politically it’s a huge risk, but the risk Oprah took was brilliant because 1) the odds were good given how close the 2008 Democratic primary was and given how much influence Oprah has, 2) she had made enough money that it was a risk she could afford, and 3) radically changing the trajectory of black history was cause worth risking for. This is how smart people get their way politically; they keep their mouth shut and avoid controversy until they’re in a position of power, and then like a cat waiting for a mouse, they see their opportunity, and they pounce. By contrast dumb publc figures just shoot their mouth off politically without any long-term strategy and are quickly marginalized before achieving the power to create real change.