Women's Group Not Hot on Summers
By Garance Franke-Ruta
A group founded by supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) weighed in today against the potential appointment by President-elect Barack Obama of former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to the same position in an Obama administration.
"Larry Summers has a clear and unequivocal record of sexism and misogyny," said the group's co-founder Amy Siskind in a statement. "Summers' work history demonstrates a clear inability to work well with others, especially women."
Another founding member of the group, The New Agenda, which has taken pro-Sarah Palin stands in the past and advocated against media sexism during the primary, is Dr. Nancy Hopkins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hopkins famously clashed with Summers at a January 2005 MIT forum on women in the sciences after Summers, who was then president of Harvard University, said that the paucity of women in the hard sciences might be a reflection of their "intrinsic aptitude."
Summers has repeatedly apologized for causing offense at that meeting, starting days after making his remarks, when he wrote in an open letter to the University community, "I deeply regret the impact of my comments and apologize for not having weighed them more carefully."
Nonetheless, Summers' comments ultimately led to such a widespread controversy that -- coupled with other faculty concerns -- he was subjected to "lack of confidence" and censure votes by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and ultimately stepped down from his post in 2006.
Summers, an economist, is currently a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone call request for comment.
The New Agenda is also seeking to tie Summers to the current financial crisis, arguing that during his tenure at Treasury he failed to heed the warnings of former chairwoman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Brooksley E. Born, who sought to warn Summers, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan in 1998 of the risks of unregulated derivatives.
The Post, in an October piece looking at the origins of the financial crisis, highlighted Summers's push-back against Born's attempts, reporting, "A decade ago, long before the financial calamity now sweeping the world, the federal government's economic brain trust heard a clarion warning and declared in unison: You're wrong."
"Why would Summers have listened to her? She's a woman," wrote Siskind on her blog in mid-October.
The nonpartisan New Agenda expressed disappointment with the National Organization of Women when NOW endorsed Barack Obama in September and includes a number of prominent supporters of Sen. John McCain, perhaps decreasing the likelihood the Obama-administration-in-waiting would heed its warnings.
However, NOW president Kim Gandy yesterday also expressed concern about a possible Summers appointment in an Obama administration, suggesting there may be a deeper current of anxiety over the economist within women's groups.
"It's very important that whoever is in key positions understands the importance of women to this economy -- and that the impact of wage inequality for women has bearing on the overall economic inequality in our society," Gandy told the Huffington Post. "I don't see [this] on the agendas of most of the candidates being suggested. While Larry Summers has talked about income inequality, he doesn't seem to get it that a lot of that is related to the wage gap between men and women."
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