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Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly are friends of mine. I adore them both. They represent our country at its best: Gabby as a politician of great integrity and Mark as one of the best in America's corps of astronauts. By contrast, there is something that has become commonplace in our nation today, and that's violent rhetoric that crosses all lines of decency and adds nothing to political debates.

The words and deeds of Sarah Palin and former tea party candidate Jesse Kelly are examples of this trend. Since the shootings in Tucson, Palin has worked to keep herself in the national conversation. Her "Blood Libel" video last week is a good example of her rhetoric at its worst.

In the video she stated that "journalists and pundits should not manufacture a 'blood libel' that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

Looking past the anti-semitic undertones of Palin's statement, this is a mischaracterization of the specific criticism Palin has elicited since the shooting.

I will forever hold Palin accountable for her cross-hairs imagery targeting congressional districts, including Giffords', and her call to conservatives last year to "Don't Retreat, Instead — RELOAD!" Her "blood libel" reference, too, is unnecessarily violent and incendiary. Palin can't break her old habits. Sometimes an apology or a conciliatory explanation is called for, and sometimes silence is the best response.

I will also not forget Giffords' 2010 tea party opponent, Jesse Kelly, who held an event last summer where people could join him to "Shoot a Fully Automatic M16" to "Get on Target" and "Remove Gabrielle Giffords." This is not subtle. Neither Jesse Kelly nor Palin shot any guns at people in Tucson, but their words and actions deserve universal condemnation regardless.

Jesse Kelly, 29, is a college dropout and a former enlisted man who worked for his family business after military service. His only claim to fame — and it's an important one — is that he served in Iraq and spent four years in the Marines. His qualification for federal office, based on his limited experience, is debatable at best, and Kelly should have been disqualified by his vile rhetoric. Only the voters can make that decision. Luckily they made the right choice in 2010 and re-elected Gabby, but it was very close.

We have a moral responsibility to stand up and speak when people, especially our leaders, have crossed a line.

It's not about blame but demanding accountability and saying what is acceptable and what isn't.

People have the right to make idiotic statements, and do idiotic things — within the law.

In last week's video, Palin condemned the recent "shrill cries of imagined insults."

I am not imagining that Palin's and Kelly's use of rhetoric and imagery are both violent and insulting. It was clear in her video and in statements she's made since, that Palin's motivation was to defend herself, condemn her opponents and avoid responsibility for past statements.

Giffords and others in Tucson were literally attacked, and six are dead. Why does Palin feel so beleaguered, especially given her consistent claims that she's done nothing wrong?

There is nothing to admire in Palin's words and imagery or political events like the one held by Jesse Kelly. Their actions are a stain on the honor of our country.

Jim Breitinger is a Salt Lake City-based writer.