"What I think upsets me about this is that taking that incident aside, his track record on women is amazing," said Sheryl Sandberg, Summers' chief of staff during his days at Treasury. She is now chief operating officer of Facebook.
She said that in addition to consistently appointing women to positions of power and influence, he took up the cause of girls' education on a world stage well before it was fashionable.
"Larry did this speech on girls' education at the World Bank in 1992," Sandberg said. "We wrote this report and he gave his speech saying girls' education is the highest return financial investment you can make in your country. You want to help your economy? Start investing in girls' education."
Obama, apparently, overlooked the potential political fallout from women's groups when he tapped Summers for the job as the top economist in the administration, getting someone who has a well-defined sense of the financial world. Summers' appointment does not need Senate confirmation. The job of Treasury secretary does.
"He's fiscally responsible," Sandberg said. "He has a deep understanding of how markets work and, I think, has seen a lot from the political side, the academic side and the policy side of what really happens."
Summers, a self-described "market-oriented progressive," has been publicly outlining what he believes must be done to address the economic crisis.
"I think moving beyond a 'trust the market no matter what, what's best for Wall Street is what's best for America' approach to the financial markets is important if the economy is to work," Summers told Portfolio earlier this year. "That's what Sen. Obama favors."
In his regular column for the Financial Times, Summers offered a prescription for a new regulatory order, including reducing the number of financial system regulators, focusing government efforts on maintaining the health of the entire system instead of the practices of individual companies and making sure financial firms do not get "too big to fail."
Summers has made several public appearances lately, focusing his remarks on the roots of the economic crisis and what it means for the United States in the future, leading many people to believe he's the right man for what is arguably one of the most difficult jobs in all of government service.
"Larry can be brilliant, pedantic and arrogant," economist Diane Swonk said in a report she wrote after seeing Summers address the National Association of Business Economics in October. "Ask anyone who had to work with him when he was Treasury secretary in the late 1990s. But that was then and this is now. He showed NABE [the national association] that he could be self-deprecating, humble and wise. He showed us he could be a good leader, something that has been missing from the political arena for some time."