Continuing his marathon campaigning in hopes of avoiding a Republican tsunami, President Obama became the first sitting commander in chief of the United States to visit "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, appearing at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C. tonight. According to pool reports (full video from the show is available here or see a clip below), the two didn't make much news.
According to the media pool, the president strode on stage to the tune of "Hail to the Chief" and sustained cheers from the audience. In response to a question from Stewart about the current situation for the president, he said, "There is still a lot of good stuff happening, but people are frustrated."
He was told to expect that citizens would be frustrated in the two year since he took office, and it turned out to be true. But he reiterated his message of the election season, that over the last 18 months he prevented a second Great Depression and passed historical healthcare and financial reform.
"We have done things that people don't even know about," Mr. Obama said, to which Stewart asked what those things might be.
"What have you done that people don't know about? Are you planning a surprise party for us?," Stewart asked.
Regarding Congress, Mr. Obama said, "I know people feel frustrated about Congress -- the fact is there are a bunch of folks who took really tough votes they knew were bad politics...." He expressed hope that votes that were "bad politics" wouldn't result in losses for those candidates.
He brought up his most often-used theme, complaining about massive campaign spending without disclosing the sources of funding.
Stewart got Mr. Obama's attention in calling his legislation "timid at times."
"Jon, I love your show, but this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you," Mr. Obama said. "This notion that health care was timid." He then went on to list the benefits of his health care bill, and concluded that "most people would say it's as significant a piece of legislation as we have seen in this country's history."
Stewart came back that the reform was done in a "political manner" that papered over a corrupt system, and later asked about rising healthcare costs.
"When we promised during the campaign 'change you can believe in,' it wasn't change you can believe in in 18 months," Obama said.
Stewart asked Mr. Obama about hiring Larry Summers and others who were part of the system that helped precipitate the financial meltdown. The president defended Summers and the handling of the financial crisis.
Summers did "a heckuva job," Stewart told the president. "You don't want to use that phrase, dude," Mr. Obama said, defending the former head of the Obama administration's National Economic Council. "Larry was integral in helping us," he said.
Mr. Obama then talked about changing Washington, reprising his statement: "It's a work in progress, it's just not going to happen overnight."
"I guess on all these issues, my attitude is if we are making progress step by step and inch by inch, then we are being true to the spirit of the campaign" Mr Obama said.
Stewart asked if the government has the ability to make changes. "There are a couple of things," Mr. Obama said, pointing to modifying rules on filibustering and the way congressional districts are drawn.
At the end of his appearance, which was interrupted by two commercial breaks, the president again gave a positive appraisal his first 18 months in office. "Having said all that, we have made a lot of progress over the past 18 months that from a historical perspective ranks up there with any 18 months in our history."
And yet, as he said earlier in the interview, most Democrats want to see more progress. Mr. Obama hits the road again on Friday for the final push to get the vote out for his party.