Only once in American history have we had three presidents in a row re-elected for two complete terms for a total of 24 years. Thomas Jefferson was president for two terms from 1801 to 1809. He was succeeded by James Madison who served from 1809 to 1817 and then by James Munroe, 1817 to 1825. This was before we had term Presidential limits.
In 2012, if President Obama is re-elected, this could happen again. Clinton was elected twice and serve two full terms and so did GW Bush (contentious at times but was officially elected). I know at the moment it doesn't seem likely that the President will be re-elected, but here are some things you must consider. Obama's approval rating hovers around 43% right now. This is his lowest approval rating yet, but both Clinton and Reagan had approval ratings that low at this point in their presidency. If you remember both of them were re-elected quite hardily. Here is an awesome web site that you can check these numbers since the Truman administration: Wall Street Journal Presidential approval web site.
One thing to point out the differences between Obama and these other two presidents is that their numbers were going up at this point in their presidency while his is going down. They were also presidents during a time that the economy wasn't as bad as it is now. Even though presidents have little affect on the economy, presidencies do seem to take a hit when it is in the tank. I don't blame GW Bush for the economy crashing (I would really like to but logic prevents me from doing so) and I don't blame Obama for not fixing it. The economy is a wave, mostly private sector generated, and presidencies ride that wave like it or not.
One thing I did notice from this graphic is that those presidents who were re-elected had spikes in their approval rating during the elections. If the first Bush had an election in 1990, he'd have probably won it. I am sure Obama is aware of this. Many of my more liberal friends complain about Obama in that he hasn't tackled some of the slam dunk popular issues of the day. The best example of this is the repealing of Don't Ask/Don't Tell. 70% of Americans approve of the repleaing of this policy and replacing it with a more sober and inclusive policy. Why hasn't he used his political capital and the bully pulpit to push this more? The answer to this is obvious to me: timing. He wanted to do the contentious political moves early in his term: healthcare, financial reform, pulling out of Iraq etc. By the time, he goes up for re-election in 2012, most of Americans will have forgotten about the contentious policies. Many of them will also have seen a doctor for the first time in years by then which will be another plus. The slam dunk issues will come in handy then and I am hoping he will move onto an easy win. I am predicting that you will see a steady spike upward in his Y axis on this Wall Street Journal graph. Especially when you consider the "quality" of the Republican competition forming in the ranks.
I know what you are thinking, what about his party? They have an election in 2010, in almost a month from now. Is he throwing his fellow Democrats to the lions (or the elephants is more appropriate)? Perhaps. The Republicans taking over the House may be a good thing in the long term for the Democrats. It is easy to stand on the side lines and throw stones at leadership. Leadership is what is difficult. After they take over the House, the voters will be reminded at to what a dysfunctional group the GOP is. Regardless of how bad you think Congress has been in the last two years ... wait until some of these Tea Party people get into office. They will get nothing done and neither will Obama ... but the good thing for him is he will have them to blame. Again leadership is difficult. They will have the difficult decisions on their plates. If they vote against the repealing of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, they will have the 70% of the population to contend with.
I know all of this somewhat preposterous. Predicting a presidential election two years in advance is like predicting where a leaf will land after a wind storm. We don't even know if Obama is going to run again. Right? I wouldn't be surprised if he decided not to. We know his wife isn't happy with being the First Lady. I can't blame her, I'd hate the spotlight as well. This alone may be a good enough reason to not run, that and all the death threats. Either way, the political theater couldn't be better.