ATLANTA -- Former President Jimmy Carter said on Wednesday that Occupy organizers have created a "relatively successful" movement because they focused national discussion on wealth disparity despite lacking leadership and a unifying set of goals.
The Georgia Democrat said at an event in Atlanta that Occupy organizers have succeeded in forcing the media and Congress to realize the "chasm is getting greater than leaps and bounds" between the rich and the poor.
"It's been relatively successful even acknowledging there's no leadership, there's no coherence and there's no single list of issues they want to succeed," the former president said of the movement started late last year in lower Manhattan to decry corporate influence in government and wealth inequality.
"That issue was basically ignored by the Congress and the news media a year ago," he said. "I believe they've achieved putting that back on the agenda."
The remarks came at a Duke University event that also featured his oldest grandson, Jason, who was elected to the Georgia Senate in May 2010.
The former president said his travels abroad since he lost the 1980 election helped him realize the U.S. is "extra stingy" about sharing its wealth with developing nations, particularly when compared to European democracies that put an emphasis on foreign aid. Helping the less fortunate, he said, should be viewed as a moral obligation and not an act of charity.
"It dawned on me they were just as intelligent, they were just as ambitious, and their family values were just as good as mine," he said. "It's not a matter of superiority or generosity or handing out gifts to others who are less than you. They just haven't had a chance in life."
Jason Carter, who displayed the effortless Zulu he learned while working in rural South Africa for the Peace Corps, said his experience overseas helped shape his world view. He suggested that those who talk about liberty purely as a financial issue have lost sight about what it means to respect human rights.
"We talk about freedom at the Georgia Legislature as a half a point in your income tax," he said.