Will Clinton, Bush, Obama = Jefferson, Madison, Monroe?

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House in this file photo.

Roller coaster rides have defined the fortunes of the two major political parties over the past 20 years. Oddly, the 2012 presidential election could end with a historic affirmation of stability in the White House.

To recap two decades’ worth of political turmoil:

Bill Clinton’s presidential win in 1992 buoyed Democrats, but then came the 1994 midterm election that decimated their congressional ranks and gave Republicans House and Senate control. Republicans further rejoiced in 2000 when George W. Bush rode a 537-vote win in Florida to the presidency. Six years later, though, a surprisingly strong anti-Republican wave built late in the midterm campaign and Democrats won Congress’ two chambers. Democratic momentum continued in 2008, not only with Barack Obama’s White House victory but with gains to the party’s congressional majorities. Those gains, of course, got swamped in 2010 when the Republicans retook the House with a 63-seat pickup and significantly narrowed the Democratic advantage in the Senate.

Against that backdrop of turmoil, here’s the oddity: If Obama wins re-election on Nov. 6, it will mark only the second time in the nation’s history that three consecutive presidents have been rewarded with second terms.

That’s a big “if” surrounding Obama’s prospects, of course. Still, a re-election triumph for him, following the two-term Clinton and Bush administrations, would match the two presidential wins posted, in order, by the venerable Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe in elections from 1800 through 1820.

In the 1820 campaign, Monroe ran essentially unopposed — a mark of what historians coined the “Era of Good Feeling” in U.S. politics. Not exactly reminiscent of the current vibe. Nor did it take long for that era to end. The 1824 presidential race was especially fractious, featuring four candidates who each broke double-digits in the popular vote. Andrew Jackson led the pack, but John Quincy Adams claimed the most electoral votes and thus occupied the White House. Jackson’s backers never reconciled themselves to that outcome, and Adams’ single term was marked by political anger and stalemate.

Now THAT rings a more familiar note.

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