We all know that misery loves company, but so apparently do mediocrity and doltishness. West Virginia politics, after all, has no shortage of people embodying these qualities, but their current exemplar might be Robert Karnes.
Karnes, who lost his state Senate seat in 2018 and now really wants his government job back — so desperately, in fact, that, on Facebook and in his advertising, he still calls himself “Senator Robert Karnes” — seems as dedicated to embarrassing the state as he is to serving it.
As a lawmaker, Karnes never actually got much done, but he’s always had a way with words. In 2018, he referred on the floor of the Senate to West Virginia teachers as “free riders” and said their strike amounted to holding kids “hostage.” After a heated debate on proposed changes to the State tax structure, he called delegates who voted for the opposing House plan “terrorists.” For a libertarian-leaning, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps conservative, Karnes sure does come off as whiny and hysterical.
But he’s bold, I’ll give him that. Insulting teachers on the floor of the Senate when you know damn well that they vote? No matter. Karnes wasn’t worried. The teacher strike won’t have “any significant effect” on the election, he said, right before getting absolutely shellacked in said election by pro-union, pro-teacher Republican Bill Hamilton. But hey, unlike at my job, Karnes didn’t have to take an intelligence test to get his.
Remember, this is the same guy who, after pitching a tax plan seemingly designed to fiscally cripple the state, suggested that we’d save money if Medicaid didn’t cover “transgender surgery” — which it doesn’t.
Besides vying for a job where he can collect big government checks for essentially doing nothing (which is funny coming from a guy who recently told someone on Twitter to “enjoy [their] government cheese”), Karnes’ other thing is being a hyper-partisan provocateur on social media.
Recently, he was on Twitter deflecting criticism of riot police in Buffalo, New York, who violently shoved a 75-year-old peaceful protester to the ground, causing a serious head injury, and then walked on past, leaving him bleeding profusely on the sidewalk. Curious, that a supposed libertarian and “Constitutional conservative” would be defending a blatant violation of constitutional rights (not to mention aggravated assault) perpetrated by heavily armed and armored agents of the state.
But now, he’s gone far beyond partisanship, making anti-Semitic comments to Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, who just happens to be the only Jewish lawmaker in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Karnes told Pushkin (in a Facebook comment, of course) that the billionaire financier, philanthropist and activist George Soros “made his fortune selling Jews to the Nazis,” a perennial and baseless far-far-right conspiracy theory. “Maybe you can be like george,” Karnes wrote.
This is merely a new twist on the old trope that Jews are running everything. Like all such anti-Semitic, racist and otherwise hate-rooted ideas, it’s as ugly and bigoted as it is stupid and baseless. Karnes should be ashamed, although I doubt he has enough self-awareness or emotional intelligence to feel such a thing.
That a man who is seeking public office clearly enjoyed denigrating someone’s faith should scare every West Virginian. Karnes is providing us with a clear image of what our state has to overcome. He embodies aspects of West Virginia that are regrettably still flourishing, especially in the state Republican Party — bigotry, anti-intellectualism, protectionism and generally being frightened of anyone who doesn’t look, think, love and worship exactly as they do.
This degree of duncery is not rare here. I recall a woman I dated about eight years ago taking some night classes at a local college, wherein a classmate asked, with total sincerity, if Jews showered and brushed their teeth.
The Karnses of West Virginia lambaste the media while getting all of their “news” from bloggers with degrees from YouTube University or from hyper-partisan echo chambers like Breitbart or Fox. They slavishly repeat the mantra — or lie, if you will — that Reaganomics (i.e. socialism for the rich) will save us all. They dump all over working people, insult teachers and back laws such as right-to-work, which are little more than legalized union busting. They champion and defend huge out-of-state corporations with an almost religious fervor, all while defunding public health, protecting polluters and maintaining a relentless attack on women, the poor, LGBTQ citizens, minorities and the environment. In nearly every way, they seem more interested in living in the 19th century than the 21st.
And then they wonder why businesses don’t want to come here; and why our state is the only one in the country losing population; and why the vast majority of our young people leave; and why most of those who leave never come back except to visit the old folks, retire or die.
Karnes’ comment to Pushkin? He’s since deleted it. Screencap is a thing, however, and tons of people have already seen it. Some would dismiss Karnes as merely a troll, but if he is, he’s terrible at it. A smart troll knows to never delete such a comment.
Speaking of trolling, one of Karnes’ favorite targets is Gazette-Mail Statehouse reporter Phil Kabler, to whom Karnes refers as the “Kabler Troll.” That Karnes considers Kabler a troll but still plasters his name and links to his articles all over the internet tells you all you need to know.
Karnes clearly spends a ton of time on social media, and yet still hasn’t learned its cardinal rule: Acknowledging a troll is surrendering to a troll.