Obama on 'The Daily Show': 'Yes We Can ... But It's Not Going to Happen Overnight'

VIDEO: President Obama brings a somber message to Jon Stewarts The Daily Show.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH Few Laughs for Obama on 'Daily Show'

In his first appearance on "The Daily Show" as commander in chief, President Obama defended his administration's agenda when questioned pointedly about the platform of change and hope he ran on so successfully in 2008.

"When I say that when we promised during the campaign, change you can believe in, it wasn't change you can believe in in 18 months," the president said. "It was change you can believe in, but you have to work for it.

"My attitude is [that] if we're making progress step by step, inch by inch, day by day, that we are being true to the spirit of that campaign," Obama added. "What I would say is, 'Yes, we can,' but it is not going to happen overnight."

The audience and host Jon Stewart erupted into laughter as the president added "but" after the "Yes, we can" campaign slogan that became a defining aspect of his presidential campaign.

This is the first time in the show's 16-year history that a sitting U.S. president has appeared on it. The unedited interview will run in its entirety tonight at 11 p.m. EST, another first of the show.

Obama, appearing before a crowd of 550, received a standing ovation upon arrival.

"It was a wonderful welcome," the president joked. "It doesn't happen, for example, when I go to the Republican caucus meeting."

Obama cracked few jokes during the rest of the show.

In a nearly 30-minute-long interview taped in Washington D.C., where the Comedy Central show is being filmed this week, a relatively serious Obama instead defended the health care and financial reform bills as Stewart pressed him about criticisms that the administration may not be keeping up with the promises made in 2008.

"You ran on a very high rhetoric of hope and change. And the Democrats this year seem to be running on, 'Please baby, one more chance,'" Stewart quipped. "How do we go in two years from hope and change to this?"

"Folks are going to be frustrated and it's going to reflect itself in the political environment," the president said.

"The fact is that there are a bunch of folks who, during the course of this year, took really tough votes that they knew were bad politics because they thought they were the right things to do," he said, referring to lawmakers like Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., and Rep. Betsey Markey, D-Colo., who hail from conservative districts yet voted for health care reform bills.

"They knew it was going to be a tough battle, that these are generally pretty conservative districts, yet they still went ahead and did what they thought was right," Obama said. "My hope is that those people are rewarded for taking those tough votes and if they are, then Democrats will be fine on Election Day."

Obama encouraged Americans to vote and joked that Stewart should have held his "Rally to Restore Sanity" two years ago. The rally, a joint production between Stewart and Stephen Colbert, will be held this Saturday and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Washington.

Obama Makes Appearance on the Daily Show

The president spoke out in support of the rally last month, saying it's for people who expect common sense and courtesy in their daily interactions. He said having those voices be heard is "really important."

The White House said the president's interview was booked before the rally was announced earlier this month.

As Obama goes coast to coast to rally for Democrats facing tough races next week, officials said the interview was part of the effort to reach out to young people about the elections.

"You've got a constituency of younger voters that watch that show, and it's a good place to go and reach them," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. "The president hasn't been shy about going to the places where people are getting their information and trying to make his case."

Obama last appeared on "The Daily Show" in August 2007, when he was campaigning against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential bid. When asked then if candidate Obama could take on the Republicans, the former senator replied with an enthusiastic yes.

"Some of those folks are easy people," he said at the time, referring to candidates like Mike Huckabee.

In today's appearance, the president appeared more demure, cracking only a few smiles at Stewart's jokes.

"We prevented the second great depression," the president said. "We stabilized the economy. ... We got nine months of consecutive job growth. ... We have passed historic health care reform, historic financial regulatory reform. We have done things that people don't even know about."

Stewart quipped in response: "Are you planning a surprise party for us?"

"The Daily Show" host's questions mostly were aimed at the president's 2008 campaign slogan of hope and change.

"Is the difficulty you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you delivered?" Stewart asked. "You ran with such, if I may, audacity, yet legislatively it has felt timid at times -- that I am not even sure at times what you want out of a health care bill."

Obama answered that that the health care bill -- while not including all the provisions that Democrats originally hoped for -- still expands coverage to millions more Americans and introduces new benefits.