Get your bow. Get your arrows. It's open season on Mitt Romney.
Much of the news media aren't even pretending anymore.
With 49 days to go before the election, we are witnessing an old-fashioned game of kill-the-carrier, with a football sewn into Romney's jersey. The Republican presidential nominee cannot come to his feet before being hit, again and again.
The narrative? "Watch rich kid Mitt blow this thing." Anything that feeds it is getting A1 treatment.
Even ostensible conservative columnist David Brooks is in on the act today. "Thurston Howell Romney," his column headline reads, comparing the gigantically successful Republican businessman to the bumbling millionaire dilettante in the 1960s TV sitcom "Gilligan's Island."
Way to play against type, David.
Don't get me wrong. Romney makes mistakes -- some real doozies. And they deserve to be covered. But the attacks are beginning to feel like gratuitous blood sport.
Here is an actual headline from a New York Times story tweeted last week: "Mitt Romney Remains Vague on Details of Some Proposals." I am not a regular Times basher, but c'mon. Has anyone asked the president for details on, say, his debt proposal?
The latest hit on Romney is over remarks he made at a private fundraiser months ago. The Republican presidential candidate was surreptitiously videotaped telling his audience that 47 percent of Americans -- those dependent on government dollars -- may be unreachable electorally.
That's a conversation as old as America. "Anyone who robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul's support," the well-worn adage goes.
But Romney's remarks were shocking (!) and became irresistible to headline writers: "Romney trashes the 47 percent," one wrote. "Romney: Obama voters 'believe they are victims,' " read another.
Politics is a tough sport, and these headlines are appropriate, but their intent is to ping Romney the candidate, rather than to introduce an important issue into the campaign in a serious way.
That's a shame, because there's truth to what Romney said -- and it deserves sober discussion. We see the effect of government largesse on the ballot box all the time, from the rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment dweller voting for anyone who will maintain that program to the public employee supporting whatever candidate delivers him the greatest pension benefits.
It is only natural to vote in one's own interest. But what will happen, Romney and others are asking, when a majority of Americans become the beneficiaries of the minority? Will the country tilt quickly and irretrievably toward socialism? It very well might.
As Brooks, to his credit, noted today: "In 1980, about 30 percent of Americans received some form of government benefits. Today, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, about 49 percent do." In other words, we're getting awfully close.
That 47 percent of Americans Romney mentioned pay no federal income tax. Why would any of them care if income tax rates were raised 10 or 20 percent -- or even doubled, for that matter? It would have no immediate effect on them. But the long-term effect of that could be disastrous on U.S. job growth.
But it's the campaign "stumble" that will be covered for the rest of this week, not the issue.
Meanwhile, stories on America's credit rating being downgraded again, our embassies being attacked and the president's refusal to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister are written with no attitude whatsoever. They read like obligatory dispatches; no joy of authorship bleeds through them.
And why should it? This is not the time for such serious news.
It's Romney season.