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What Americans want from the next president

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Droden picks up two breakfast orders and takes them over to a couple in a booth, while one of the cooks drops quarters into the jukebox. Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" pierces the air.

"There's got to be better jobs for people," says Droden, filling up syrup bottles. "Why is it that so many people in this country work so hard and get so little?"

She is not a charity case, she says, and has never asked for anything but the opportunity to work. "My parents gave up on me, but I fought and survived," she says. "I want my government to fight for me, too."

Brenda Berry works at a food establishment with a little less country music and cholesterol – Harvest Moon Natural Foods, an organic grocery store in a strip mall in Winchester, Va.

Ms. Berry first voted in 1980, pulling the lever for Ronald Reagan. She hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since.

The "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" philosophy touted by many conservatives is misguided, Berry says. She believes government may not be the solution, as Reagan once famously put it, but it can be a force for fairness.

"Corporations are getting away with too many tax breaks, and the wealthy are, too," she says. "Meanwhile, those who aren't wealthy are suffering. There needs to be much more economic equality, and government has a role to make that happen."

Military spending should be drastically cut, she says, with the savings used to make college more affordable, rebuild the nation's infrastructure, and train the unemployed.

"It's time to start minding our own business and taking care of our own," she says.

As a starting point, she suggests a change in the atmosphere of Washington, from one of pugnaciousness to possibility. "We need to start cooperating with each other a lot more," she says. "We can't keep on going like this, always divided. It's going to tear us apart."

Is anyone out there listening?

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