Opinion: Sometimes, politics just needs to be nasty

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Story highlights

  • John McTernan: Passion of a politician isn't sufficient to get elected, but it's necessary
  • If there were ever any doubts Clinton wanted the job, they are surely dispelled now, he says

John McTernan is a former speechwriter for ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-communications director to former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Is the presidential election campaign getting uncommonly nasty? Perhaps.

Since the summer it has switched back to having far more of the feel of a soap opera. Secrets are revealed. Scandals unmasked. And the candidates yo-yo up and down in the polls.
    Two things, though, remain constant: First, Donald Trump remains one of the most unlikely, unlikable and unprepared candidates to run for president.
    Second, Hillary Clinton appears to be absolutely the most determined to win candidate there has yet been. Though at times that determination has seemed dogged rather than inspired: She campaigns, in contradiction of Mario Cuomo's great adage, in prose, not poetry.
    The closing days of the campaign have seen yet another twist: the widely challenged and much-condemned statement of FBI Director James Comey about emails discovered during the investigation of a case involving former US Rep. Anthony Weiner, which may or may not relate to Clinton's private email server.
    The rights and wrongs of the case are beside the point. The damage -- if there is any -- has been done. And the early polls suggest that little has, which makes sense since the election campaign has been going on for such a long time and at such a high pace that it would be striking if you were a voter who had an unformed view of Clinton.
    The verdict is in -- either way -- and it is now a matter of ground war, campaign organization and turnout.
    One thing the latest "revelation" has done is bring Clinton out swinging. Which is how it always should have been: I wrote some time ago she needed to stop taking her knife to what was clearly a gunfight.
    The passion of a politician is not sufficient to get elected, but it is necessary. Voters ask a simple question: If you won't fight hard for your own job, how can I trust you to fight hard for mine?
    Well, if there were ever any doubts that Clinton wanted the job, they are surely dispelled now.
    And to those wincing and complaining that the campaign has become too nasty, here's a thought: It should be -- this contest is being fought for high stakes.
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    Henry Kissinger used to quip that the reason why academic politics were so vicious was that the rewards were so tiny. Well, the winner of this election will be commander in chief, president of the world's greatest country, leader of the free world. Don't wonder that it is being fought viciously; question why you thought it should be otherwise.
    Politics is a contact sport, not because the participants are sociopaths but because the results matter -- not just to politicians and advisers but to all of us.
    "Well at least," appalled observers of the election might say, "this will soon be over!" In one narrow sense, they are right. On November 9 there will almost certainly be a decisive winner -- the paths to a draw look tortuous and require a tortured logic, too.
    That, though, will not be an end to it. The result does not mean it will be over. Not because either side will be sore losers and cry foul -- though Trump does look more of a crybaby than a statesman, and is highly unlikely to be able to give a concession speech as gracious as John McCain's.
    No, the reason that this divisive debate won't go away after the election is there is a real underlying division -- one not caused by the campaign but reflected in it.
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    America is changing, becoming more diverse, more urban, better educated. The consequent social change -- including equal marriage and the long march of women through the institutions -- is irreversible.
    This fact has proved so disturbing to some parts of America -- largely in Republican states -- that they will next week go to the polling station and vote for Trump.
    More unsettling still for them will be if Clinton does win and makes headway in the South, either in consolidating the Democrats' grip on Virginia and North Carolina or with a surge of support in Georgia or even Texas.
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    If the polls are correct, change is coming; in fact in many places change is here -- that is what this anger is about.
    Antonio Gramsci put it well: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."
    The conflict revealed in this election may not be cathartic, but it is certainly necessary.