[Paleopsych] NYT: Hometown Snubs Schwarzenegger Over Death Penalty
checker at panix.com
Tue Dec 27 23:12:59 UTC 2005
Hometown Snubs Schwarzenegger Over Death Penalty
[Note the elite vs. popular opinion split. There are similar splits over
immigration and school prayer. I'd like to know why elite opinion about capital
punishment is so strongly held. I cannot make up my own mind. I'm familiar with
the various arguments, but I cannot weigh the various pros and cons and come to
an overall conclusion. But elite opinion seems to ignore anything positive
about capital punishment. It is absolutist and bigoted.
[I'd also like to know why elite opinion has shifted. Who are the conformity
enforcers? Are there fresh arguments against it that I have missed? If not, why
weren't the old arguments accepted before?
[I should make a list of splits in mass and elite opinion.]
By RICHARD BERNSTEIN
BERLIN, Dec. 26 - For years the quaint Austrian town of Graz trumpeted
its special relationship with its outsize native son, Arnold
Born in a village nearby and schooled in Graz, Mr. Schwarzenegger was
an honorary citizen and holder of the town's Ring of Honor. Most
conspicuously, the local sports stadium was named after him.
But early on Monday, under cover of darkness, his name was removed
from the arena in a sort of uncontested divorce between the California
governor and the town council, which had been horrified that he
rejected pleas to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams, former
leader of the Crips gang, who was executed by the state of California
two weeks ago.
The 15,000-seat stadium had been named after Mr. Schwarzenegger in
1997 as an act of both self-promotion and fealty toward the poor
farmer's son and international celebrity, who has always identified
Graz as his native place.
But when he declined to commute Mr. Williams's death penalty, the
reaction was swift and angry in Graz, which, like most places in
Europe, sees the death penalty as a medieval atrocity.
"I submitted a petition to the City Council to remove his name from
the stadium, and to take away his status as an honorary citizen,"
Sigrid Binder, the leader of the Green Party, said in a recent
interview. "The petition was accepted by a majority on the council."
Before a formal vote was taken on the petition, however, Mr.
Schwarzenegger made a kind of pre-emptive strike, writing a letter to
Siegfried Nagl, the town's conservative mayor, withdrawing Graz's
right to use his name in association with the stadium.
There will be other death penalty decisions ahead, he wrote, and so he
decided to spare the responsible politicians of Graz further concern.
"It was a clever step," Ms. Binder said. "He took the initiative," she
continued, and then suggested a bit of the local politics that had
entered into the matter. "It was possible for him to do so," she said,
"because the mayor didn't have the courage to take a clear position on
Needless to say, Mr. Nagl, a member of the conservative People's
Party, who opposed the name-removal initiative, does not agree.
He is against the death penalty, he said in an interview, and on Dec.
1, he wrote a letter to Mr. Schwarzenegger pleading for clemency for
Mr. Williams. But he blames the leftist majority on the City Council -
consisting of Greens, Social Democrats and two Communists - for trying
to score some local political points at Mr. Schwarzenegger's and, he
believes, Graz's own expense.
"One stands by a friend and a great citizen of our city and does not
drag his name through the mud even when there is a difference of
opinion," Mr. Nagl said in a letter he wrote to Mr. Schwarzenegger. "I
would like to ask you to keep the Ring of Honor of the City of Graz."
The heated nature of the debate revealed how much a relatively small
place like Graz, certainly a place with no military might or
diplomatic power to speak of, wants to play a role as a sort of moral
beacon, waging the struggle for what it considers the collective good.
Graz, a place of old onion steeples, museums and Art Nouveau
architecture, designated itself five years ago, with a unanimous vote
of the City Council, to be Europe's first official "city of human
rights." While the designation has no juridical meaning, it provides a
sort of goal to live up to.
"We are against the death penalty, not only in word, but really
against the death penalty," said Wolfgang Benedek, a professor of
international law at Graz University.
He said the council's reaction reflected the special circumstances
surrounding Mr. Williams: a man who had written a children's book
aimed at steering young people away from violence, he had already
spent many years in jail, and seemed, to Europeans at least, to have
"Many people around the world pleaded with Mr. Schwarzenegger to show
mercy in this case, and when he didn't, the city had somehow to
react," Mr. Benedek said.
Mr. Benedek allows that there is an element of elite versus popular
opinion on this matter. A poll by the local newspaper found that over
70 percent of the public opposed removing Mr. Schwarzenegger's name
from the stadium.
This adds to a practical consideration very much on Mr. Nagl's mind:
that Graz will no longer be able to count on using its special
relationship with the governor to promote its image.
"We had the great classical culture on the one side," Thomas
Rajakovics, the mayor's spokesman, said, referring to other important
figures who are associated with Graz, from the astronomer Johannes
Kepler to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger, to the
conductor Karl Böhm. "And on the other, we had Arnold Schwarzenegger
and the popular culture. These were the two poles for us, but we're
not allowed to use his name any more."
The Schwarzenegger name has, as it were, been erased. The new name is
now simply Stadion Graz-Liebenau (a district of Graz), though there
were other proposals. One was to name the stadium after the Crips, the
gang that Mr. Williams founded, but that idea did not get widespread
support. Another was to name it Hakoah, after a Jewish sports club
that was banned after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.
But the first "city of human rights" did not seem quite ready for that
either. It is not that there was vocal opposition but, as Ms. Binder
put it, Austrians do not generally want a daily reminder of the
terrible wartime past.
Meanwhile, city officials are holding on to Mr. Schwarzenegger's
honorary citizenship ring, which arrived from the governor during the
holidays. Mr. Rajakovics said they would keep it for him in the hope
that one day he would take it back.
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