President Barack Obama and Jon Stewart (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty)

Eager to energize youth voters for his party in the 2010 midterm elections next week, President Barack Obama appeared on Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Wednesday night. His turn was short on jokes ("You should have held a Rally to Restore Sanity two years ago" was one of his few quips) and long on explanations for why the hope and change he promised has been slow in coming. The bottom line of his message: The economic meltdown was much bigger than anyone imagined, and where America is now is light years better than where it would have been if his administration hadn't done what it did — including turning to some of the same people who were on the scene when things originally went south, like outgoing National Economic Council chief Larry Summers.

The president's trademark lawyerly reserve was on display for much of the show, although he bristled when Stewart asked him about criticism from some in the Democratic base that his reforms — particularly health care — have been "timid." "This is what most people would say is as significant a piece of legislation as we have seen in this country's history," said Obama. "What happens is it gets discounted because [the] assumption is we didn't get 100 percent of what we wanted, we only get 90 percent of what we wanted — so let's focus on the 10 percent we didn't get."

Resisting the suggestion that he might have overpromised "change" in his presidential campaign, Obama called his attempts to transform Washington "a work in progress" and added, "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."

"I would say yes we can — but it's not going to happen overnight."

See the full episode video clip on Comedy Central.

Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.