It was a moment that provided a glimpse of what the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign could have been. Last week, Palin gave a rare speech, looking more like the mother she’s surely proud to be rather than the Republican ticket’s attack dog. Addressing an issue deeply personal to her, Palin spoke at an event in Coraopolis, Pa., about the need to better serve special needs children, in particular those with autism.

Palin was indeed speaking from personal experience as the parent of a six-month old child with Down Syndrome. Her nephew is also autistic. It reminded me of the Oct. 15 debate between Sen. Barack Obama and McCain when the GOP nominee briefly discussed the need for “effective solutions to stem the tide of autism cases,” though he said nothing about funding it. Maybe, because it would have been hard for him to continue his argument to “cut spending” while also calling for more funds to special needs programs.

I visited McCain’s Web site and found not a single mention of legislation to impact national rising autism cases, which effects 1 in 150 pre-teen children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Palin’s comments, however, I believe would make for a perfectly workable campaign platform. One that would help steady McCain’s and Palin’s troubled campaign. I bring this up not only because it personally affects me- my brother has autism-but to also illustrate what has gone wrong with McCain’s campaign. Had he and Palin been able to talk more credibly about helping families with disabled children, syncing that message with the current economic problems, they could have appealed to undecided voters while also re-igniting their base.

But no, the two continued to evoke Joe the-non-licensed, not his real name, and no where near close to buying a quarter of a million dollar business-Plumber. They called Obama a “socialist” for wanting to “spread the wealth around,” obviously distorting his economic plan. On this issue, he and his campaign staff seem to be forgetting three things: It’s not socialism to roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the Fortune 500 companies and the wealthy. Obama is correct asserting the businesses need the middle class to do well so their companies can prosper. If I’m broke, I’m certainly not going to hire “Joe the Plumber’s” imaginary company for work. That means Joe looses revenue which leads to more job losses.

Second, voters are becoming wiser to unsubstantiated attacks. They want a candidate that can sympathize with their struggle, not yell at them about Candidate X is a socialist and candidate Y is a reformer so vote for Y. Rather, Obama has at least shown empathy to voters’ economic concerns while McCain has looked out of touch.

Lastly, if I was McCain and I lose the presidency, particularly by a wide margin, I would make sure my entire staff couldn’t finds jobs collecting cash at drive-through fast food windows. The lack of a campaign theme, McCain’s crabby demeanor during the debates, and the completely useless William Ayers references has done more damage to McCain than to Obama. When you have a new theme every week, you really have none at all, and you really can’t sell yourself as “experienced and prepared.”

Imagine if McCain and Palin had given that Oct. 24, plan on disabilities one month earlier. They would have shown their compassion for working parents, and McCain could have even throw in: “I have seen Gov. Palin balance parenting a special needs child and working to be your next vice president. I have the utmost respect for your plight. Here is how I will make it easier for you.” McCain would have caught Obama completely off-guard, forcing him to respond to McCain’s plan without seeming overly critical of it. Instead, McCain has been tight-lipped about special needs children since that last debate. It’s as if he and Palin are running separate campaigns. By not elaborating on families, McCain might have squandered his best chance to win.