A few things emerged from these conversations.
#1) I was in a chatroom with some friends on AIM and someone linked to a blog entry discussing Christmas. In it, the author (a friend of my friends) said "if I were rich, I'd like to take in lonely people and feed them to let them know that not every rich person is a cold-hearted bastard" (or something to that effect.
One of my friends replied (with some degree of underlying hostility, probably fanning the flames of some old argument) and quoted the author's position on universal healthcare and said "no wonder there are depressed and lonely people; they don't have access to mental health services! rich people prefer to buy them dinners to feel better about themselves rather than pay taxes to help them." Whoa!
#2) While I read this exchange, my mom knocked on my door and said "your brother wants to talk with you about healthcare and tell him why Hillary has a good plan (and Rudy doesn't.) Obviously she doesn't have an opinion on the issue. :-\ I'm completely incompetent on this issue, so I talked about basic principles of governing with my brother to feel out his position on capitalism, its values, the role of government in serving its people, what society should do to support itself and the questions he should be asking.
I boiled it down to two questions:
"If you had money and power, who would you help?"
and the follow-up question: "who is 'not deserving' of this help?"
What I look for in a leader is someone of principles. What does that mean? To me, it means someone who can tell me what their philosophy of governance is and is consistent with my own views. Someone who would answer question 1 with "Everyone!" and #2 with "I don't know."
I'm going to go out on a huge limb here and tell you my idealistic, blazing future for America that fixes all of our woes as I know them, in my completely zany worldview.
First of all, I think that capitalism plays up the wrong traits for a functional society. It breeds smart, cutthroat people who care about success and sneak by with as much as they can get away with. People who don't buy into this philosophy don't rise to power, whereas a true democracy would speak out for the rights of the impoverished and disadvantaged over those of the rich and powerful. Everyone deserves a chance at an equal footing and in this day and age, that applies to healthcare!
Secondly, I think we've got the priority of our National Budget all wrong. A large chunk of our spending goes towards "Defense" when it could be better spent on Education, Health Care and Science/Research, in that order, with defense and everything else following that. Having a core of healthy, well-educated individuals would go far. What would we do with our military that would suddenly be out of a job? I'd make them part of our new Peace Corps. They'd be "invading" other countries with education, like missionaries without the religious agenda. It'd be a share-the-wealth-and-spread-the-goodwill-agenda. Building up relations, networking and if necessary, make a few bucks here and there.
Immigration policy would be relaxed because I'd like to have people cycle through to become trained. They might even be inspired to become a part of the Peace Corps so they can return home and better serve their friends and family back home.
Social security is a difficult subject ethically because the better that our health care gets, the more of a burden we develop with this. I don't think we should ignore senior citizens and delegate them to the "useless waste of money" category. They have proven their worth to our society and they can still provide value! We just need to find more ways to keep them connected with society so we don't see them as a burden on our tax dollars.
I've got more insane ideas. They need to be better honed, because I feel like I'm starting to spout off garbage already...