It was the feisty old Franz-Josef Strauss who shot off the first cannons May 20 in the conservatives' bid to wrest the West German chancellorship from the Social Democrats.
He contended that Social Democractic policies have aided Soviet expansion abroad. He attacked the Social Democratic left wing for hobnobbing with communists in violent demonstrations at home.
The new, subdued Strauss of the past y ear -- whose policy statements have hardly been distinguishable from chancellor Helmut Schmidt's -- is now gone. The old combative Strauss that so delights his fans and enrages his foes is back.
At the two-day Christian Democratic Union (CDU) convention in West Berlin the candidate termed the present period a "gotterdammerung" ("twilight of the gods") after a decade of Social Democratic rule.
Mr. Strauss's home-state Bavarians loved it. The 12,000 young demonstrators outside the Berlin convention hall hated it, but were kept to mostly peaceful protest by reinforced police.
The 780 CDU delegates inside the hall repeatedly applauded Mr. Strauss's message and made it clear they would go all the way with their candidate. There was no attempt to replace him -- as had been hinted after the CDU defeat in the North Rhine-Westphalia state election of mid-May -- with a candidate who might appeal more to the center spectrum of the West German electorate.
For the first time Mr. Strauss lashed out directly at the popular Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. He focused, as usual, on the Social Democrats' left wing and especially its youth organization. But he blamed Mr. Schmidt for not controlling "growing anti-Americanism" in his left wing.
Mr. Strauss also called the Chancellor a "well poisoner" who is destroying the basic political consensus in presenting the Social Democrats as the party of peace (and the conservatives as the party of war, by implication). There is no such "dumb alternative" between war and peace, Mr. Strauss argued.
The only guarantee that Europe will not become a battlefield, Mr. Strauss continued, is solidarity with Western Europe, and above all with the United States. But Mr. Schmidt pretends that European peace is possible only in decoupling West Germany from the US, Mr. Strauss alleged.
In domestic affairs, Mr. Strauss said the "stop Strauss" campaign is being run by communists, their front organizations, and other left-led groups, including Social Democrats and writers, as well as terrorist sympathizers. Mr. strauss blamed these "auxiliary troops of Helmut Schmidt" for the sometimes violent demonstrations that have suddenly begun again this year, reminding West Germans of the turbulent student demonstrations of the late 1960s.