The way anti-Strauss intellectuals tell it, conservative chancellor candidate Franz Josef Strauss is to the right of the Nazis. The way Mr. Strauss and his party chief tell it, incumbent Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is an appeaser of Moscow who is at times all but indistinguishable from the communists.
Thus far has the campaign deteriorated already. And with the October election still more than three months away, the prospects are that this will be one of the nastiest campaigns in West German history.
Mr. Strauss feels himself the most victimized. For years the highly intelligent, feisty, and conservative Bavarian has been a bogyman of the left, of intellectuals, and even of many liberals. What he calls a hate campaign against him is reaching its climax this summer as he strives for the highest office in West Germany.
Intentionally repulsive anti-Strauss posters and bumper stickers have cropped up all over West Germany. A hit movie, "The Candidate" -- directed by 1980 Academy Award winner Volker Schlondorff ("The Tin drum") and others is currently portraying Mr. Strauss as a bribetaker, cold-war monger, and neo-Nazi. It was partly financed by the magazine publisher who at Defense Minister Strauss's instigation was jailed in the 1960s during a four-month investigation of treason charges arising out of a magazine article.
Mr. Strauss and his angry Christian Social Union (CSU) colleagues have denounced "The Candidate" for using Nazi-style film-juxtaposition innuendoes to smear Mr. Strauss. The movie opens with an ominous cut from the Bonn chancellery to the Bonn hotel where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain prepared to abandon Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler. It cuts from then-Atom Minister Strauss's advocacy of nuclear power plants to Harrisburg's Three Mile Island accident.
It introduces Mr. Strauss's promotion to defense minister with photographed crashes of the Lockheed Starfighters that he would procure and that would cost 96 pilots' lives. It breathes heavily on unsubstantiated charges that Mr. Strauss received Lockheed payoffs. In one highlight the narration comments, "Strauss is no Nazi -- Strauss is to the right of Nazism."
Similarly, West German Writers' Association chairman Bernt Engelmann -- who wrote a painstakingly researched novelistic expose of Nazi leftovers among West German officials and industrialists in 1974 -- has published a Strauss "black book" this year that assails Mr. Strauss's alleged "fascist or Nazi way of thinking." Yet when pressed for evidence of this at one foreign correspondents' dinner, Mr. Engelmann could come up with nothing but quotes of name-calling -- because, he asserted, Mr. Strauss is just too clever to say what he really thinks in public.
Moderate Social Democrats, who disagree with Franz Josef Strauss politically but deem him well within the Democratic spectrum, deplore such character assassination of Mr. Strauss. They are also appalled, however, by some of the mud that the conservatives are now slinging at Social Democratic Chancellor Schmidt.
Before this, the popular chancellor was largely immune to the name-calling; the conservatives calculated that it would be counterproductive to attack the middle-of-the-road Helmut Schmidt and concentrated instead on their bogyman of Social Democratic parliamentary leader (and pre-war Communist) Herbert Wehner.
With the CSU party convention June 20 and 21 the Schmidt taboo was lifted, however. Delegates were shown a film that turned the tables on "The Candidate" by showing documentary clips of young Hamburg Interior Senator Schmidt's handling of a flood that cost 290 lives.Mr. Schmidt was widely praised at the time as a "man of action." But the narrator implies that Mr. Schmidt should be blamed for inadequate dams in the first place -- and then shows documentaries of other places where the "dams" were insufficient: in the suppressions of the 1953 East Berlin uprising, the 1956 Hungarian military revolt, the 1968 "Prague Spring," and the 1980 Afghanistan guerrillas.
The innuendo was made explicit by Mr. Strauss's fire-breathing address right after the film. Calling Chancellor Schmidt an opportunist, Mr. Strauss accused the chancellor of being ready to sacrifice West Germany's security to his own re-election by appeasing Moscow and preaching a spurious "peace" that is nothing more than capitulation.
This threatens West Germany, Mr. Strauss continued, with "self-neutralization." Those citizens should vote for the Social Democrats, he urged sarcastically, who think that "communists are good Democrats" and the "the Russians protect us better than the Americans do."
CSU general secretary Edmund Stoiber supplemented Mr. Strauss's charges by comparing some communist sayings with some Schmidt sayings and finding the distinction between them "only minimal." He further found anarchists, fascists, communists, and members of the Social Democratic Party and its junior coalition Free Democratic Party "almost identical" in their "shoulder to shoulder" agitation against Mr. Strauss.
In other name-calling, Mr. Strauss has in the past termed opponents "rats," "flies," and "animals to whom you cannot apply laws made for humans." He has accused the Social Democrats of being an undemocratic party and of turning West Germany into "a pigsty without parallel." He has termed Chancellor Schmidt a "panic chancellor" and a "war-threatening chancellor."
He is also quoted as having said on one occasion as defense minister that the parliamentary vice-president at that time should be in prison, that Helmut Schmidt was ready to be locked up, and that the Social democratic business manager ask that time should be hanged.
During the 1980 campaign, anti-Strauss activists report that supporters of Mr. Strauss repeatedly phone to call them nasty names and to threaten such retaliation as "just let Strauss get elected, and you'll find yourself in a concentration camp!"
The tone of Strauss opponents is no more edifying. The favorite German barnyard swearword is thrown around freely. And one Augsburg theater director (whose current opera production was subsequently cancelled through the intervention of Mr. Strauss's Bavarian interior minister) announced that his wish was to see Franz Josef Strauss "explode because he is so fat. One would only have to give him a bomblet in the form of a sausage."