Economic hard times breed resentments that played out in yesterday's Wisconsin recall election. A vote for Republican Gov. Scott Walker was a vote against public employee unions and what many see as their indulgent pension and health care benefits. A vote for Democrat Tom Barrett was a vote against the one percent that continues to get wealthier while most of the remaining 99% stagnate. <BR><BR>

Walker was the winner with a somewhat more convincing margin than anticipated. Walker's win is not the final word on this conflict of resentments, but is still instructive. We still have an election in November where those resentments, along with other factors, will be tested with more at stake.<BR><BR>

For now, we can say the greater resentment in the U.S. is not the "one percent vs. 99%" but the "new haves" (i.e. government employees) vs. the "new have-nots." Consistently, I see 36% of all adults living in households where someone is working at a job that pays less than a previous job. This figure was at 14% in 1991 and has grown steadily since, even during boom years. <BR><BR>

Public employees are the last stronghold of organized labor. Their wages have not fallen. Most average folks' health care costs have risen dramatically (or been lost) and their 401K retirements (if they have one) have been buffeted by stock prices and limited employer contributions. Public employee health care plans are more robust and they have defined benefit pensions, meaning the employer must make up for market losses with increased contributions. <BR><BR>

The employer is the taxpayer, especially of municipal property taxes. Remarkably, teachers, police and firefighters who were once seen as role models can be depicted as parasites living the good life on the dime of hard-pressed taxpayers. The disparities may be exaggerated, and the left says the problem isn't overpaid public employees, but instead under-compensated private sector workers. They call it a race to the bottom.<BR><BR>

However, average people do resent other average (albeit better off) people perhaps more than they resent the rich, even in an era of unprecedented concentrations of wealth at the top. I'd give two reasons: proximity and the power of money to drive a message in the media age. <BR><BR>

Most people never share the same space with a multi-millionaire, but the teacher, firefighter and cop could live next door. Unlike income taxes which have not risen during the recession, property taxes have. Those bills and news about struggling municipalities and schools forced into programs cuts and layoffs are everyday stories.<BR><BR>

The day of reckoning has come for public employee unions. California voters in San Jose and San Diego passed cuts to retirement benefits for city workers. Look for that to happen elsewhere. On the other coast, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has behaved more like a Republican than a Democrat by talking a hard stance with public employee unions. That is one reason why he is very popular and talked about as a 2016 Presidential nominee.<BR><BR>

Walker had another advantage yesterday: money. His own campaign and that of allied super PACs reportedly outspent Barrett's forces by seven to one. That alone is sufficient explanation why an incumbent wins 55% of the vote in any election. Unions too benefit from the Citizens United decision that unleashed unlimited private money, but an ever weakening labor movement can't come close to matching the spending from conservative billionaires. The Wisconsin spending disparity should give pause to those, including myself, who see Barack Obama as the favorite to be re-elected.<BR><BR>

Obama and Mitt Romney will be the main event in this struggle of resentments. How that plays out can't be simply deciphered from the Wisconsin result. Exit polls showed Obama defeating Romney there, as many voters who opposed a recall of Walker (some because they saw recall as an improper electoral tool) still want Obama re-elected.<BR><BR>

Neither man stepped headlong into the Wisconsin dispute, unless you consider a last minute tweet from Obama a real action. Both men feared association with a loss. Nonetheless, both have are positioned in the resentment conflict. Romney has stayed in line with Tea Party beliefs and his own wealth identifies him with the one percent.<BR><BR>

Obama has never embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement beyond his call for restoring higher tax rates on millionaires and stock market reforms. He has hardly been the big spending liberal that conservatives have so effectively depicted him as. The rate of government spending under Obama has been less than each of his predecessors back to and including Ronald Reagan. <BR><BR>

Obama hopes both his record and his rhetoric position him in the middle without turning off his liberal base. Once that base is secure and the convention is done, Obama must build a majority coalition. He needs to better defend his significant legislation and scare independent voters that Republicans will roll back progress. He can still effectively play the deficit reduction card through recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles committee he created and make clear he will address those in his second term. <BR><BR>

To win, Obama can't appear to be taking sides in the resentment war, but would instead be the conciliator. That will be tricky. Romney will not be as confrontational as Walker, but hopes resentment against government and its employees and unlimited spending will work for him as well as it did for Walker.