10/29/2010 12:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama vs. Stewart: The Pace of Change

How voters interpret what President Obama has -- or has failed to -- achieve will seal the fate of hundreds of candidates who are running for office this election day.

Obama and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart did not spare each other as they put on an impressive display of verbal sparring -- punctuated by real answers that provided a rare profile of the president.

The most telling part of the interview was not in the witty repartee. It was in sharing with us how the president's mind works:

"My attitude is 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 believes his administration has made a considerable amount of progress "from an historical perspective," which he says ranks with any legislative session we've seen before. With those statements, a large piece of the puzzle that is our president was revealed.

"Timid" is how Stewart framed what the president considers historically on pace. Most of us may not measure our accomplishments according to esteemed and distant predecessors, but President Obama does. What we may see as plodding, he considers getting it done right within the context of an unhealthy Washington.

Both men were showing us the other night how practiced communicators insert their views, stand their ground, revise the course of conversation, and substitute a positive term or perspective for a negative one.

But able at communication or not, this president won't in the future, anymore than he did in the past, talk candidly to us before he is ready. When he finally does, he'll likely be on his game. He's not so much a mystery or a contradiction as he is a man who's decided whom he wants to accommodate, how long he'll take to do that, and how he wants to be remembered.

There is no rushing this president. Obama clearly moves at his own pace and no amount of criticizing and coaxing will change that. He still believes "Yes we can," but just not on the schedule many of us had in mind.

As in every American politician's reckoning with reality, we the voters will now decide whether such paced leadership is okay -- if step-by-step, inch-by-inch, day-by-day works for us.

In any case, there's something appealing about a person who tells you how he thinks with no apologies and how able he is at living with your inevitable disappointment. It was certainly long-awaited but welcome straight talk for a worried nation.

Kathleen's new book is Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation, and she also blogs at bardscove.