Response to Kiese Laymon’s “Reasonable Doubt and the Lost Presidential Debate of 2012”

Kiese Laymon’s “Reasonable Doubt and the Lost Presidential Debate of 2012” made me think.

Presidential politics are perhaps my favorite part of being a citizen of the United States, so when I was flipping through Kiese Laymon’s book, this one jumped out to me straight from the get go.

This essay of Laymon’s has two very distinct sections to it. The first is describing his relationship (and his mother’s relationship) to electing the first African-American president of the United States. He’s embracing it, saying that there wasn’t a chance in hell that he wouldn’t wear his Obama shirt as much as he could get away with (three times a week + election day!). Laymon’s mother, not so much. She didn’t want to get run off the road by a racist white man because of a bumper sticker and didn’t want to get harangued for having Barack Obama’s name associated with any of her other possessions.

Kiese Laymon, featured in his office.

His mom was also worried for him, she didn’t want him to go out, representing Obama on his cotton t-shirt, for fear of his safety, not his politics. This is something that I got the sense that Laymon struggles with, going against the advice of his mother, even though over the phone he doesn’t go further than saying “mhmm” to her to reassure his safety for the worry she had.

The second part of this essay is where Laymon’s dark sense of humor and political satire came into play, where the fake, or “lost” presidential debate scene begins. This portrayal from Laymon strays a lot from what the common mainstream media narratives were during the 2012 election, where white Mormon Mitt Romney ran in competition against Obama’s reelection bid. This piece of the essay was humorous, and paints a contrarian picture from what the media had been saying. Laymon’s interpretation plays out in this book as that the two candidates are hardly different. Laymon’s analysis of what Obama’s first presidency was like for African Americans and Americans in general was significantly more negative than some of Democrats would probably like to hear.

It’s critical of Obama’s drone program, and the debate Laymon presents here in this essay accentuates the tensions and disagreements that Obama and Romney had with each other during the general election. It also paints Romney as hopelessly and cluelessly racially insensitive. Laymon attacks Romney’s infamous ‘binders’ gaffe and the misguided ‘missing fathers from home’ narrative, that as we learn in this essay, is a personal subject for Laymon, with an abusive father in real life.

Laymon’s mock questions to Obama give readers a sense of what he, and perhaps other African Americans wish they could ask him, about the drone policy, what he’s done for African American communities, or why the U.S. cares more about the defense budget than helping provide funding for schools and mental health treatment, especially for those who live under the poverty line. The repetition of Laymon’s use of “that’s that shit I don’t like,” I feel has a significance in of itself, where he’s sending a message from these two then-candidates, to his readers.

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