During the final weeks of the race for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton badly damaged her reputation by failing to own up to misrepresenting the extent of her foreign policy experience, most notably by claiming she faced sniper fire upon landing in Bosnia when in fact she faced only an 8-year-old girl brandishing poetry. Her reputation was further battered when she suggested pledged delegates could break their pledges and jump to a rival candidate.

As the controversy ensued over the incendiary comments by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, it seemed the Clinton campaign pulled back from what observers called the “kitchen sink approach.” But that didn’t work, and a week after Barack Obama delivered what many hailed as a groundbreaking and historic speech about race in America, Clinton attacked, finally reaching a tipping point in negativity, saying,

(Wright) would not have been my pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.

You know, I spoke out against Don Imus (who was fired from his radio and television shows after making racially insensitive remarks), saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that. I just think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.

Many political observers at the time failed to note the misapplication of the term “hate speech” to Rev. Wright’s controversial sermons. Some thought it was “smart politics.” But combined with the Bosnia sniper story, Clinton came to be defined as a mean liar who couldn’t keep her lies straight, or someone a typical voter would like to throw a beer at.

Clinton’s attacks on Rev. Wright exposed her religious practices and her pastor to closer examination. Since the mid-1990s, Clinton had been a member of the Washington ministry known as The Family that caters to the powerful, including (at least as recently as the 1980s, and as far back as the 1940s*) dictators. David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama, said, “How is it wrong for Hillary as president to meet and talk with foreign dictators, yet it’s okay for her pastor to tend to their spiritual needs?” Thirty-five percent of Americans said The Family “creeped them out,” while seventy-five percent believed Obama “disagreed” with Rev. Wright’s most controversial statements.

* Kathryn Joyce & Jeff Sharlet/Mother Jones:

When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian “cell” whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.

Clinton’s prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or “the Family”), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to “spiritual war” on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship’s only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has “made a fetish of being invisible,” former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God’s plan.

(Fellowship leader) Doug Coe’s friends include former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Reaganite Edwin Meese III, and ultraconservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). Under Coe’s guidance, Meese has hosted weekly prayer breakfasts for politicians, businesspeople, and diplomats, and Pitts rose from obscurity to head the House Values Action Team, an off-the-record network of religious right groups and members of Congress created by Tom DeLay. The corresponding Senate Values Action Team is guided by another Coe protégé, Brownback, who also claims to have recruited King Abdullah of Jordan into a regular study of Jesus’ teachings.

The Fellowship’s long-term goal is “a leadership led by God—leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit.” According to the Fellowship’s archives, the spirit has in the past led its members in Congress to increase U.S. support for the Duvalier regime in Haiti and the Park dictatorship in South Korea. The Fellowship’s God-led men have also included General Suharto of Indonesia; Honduran general and death squad organizer Gustavo Alvarez Martinez; a Deutsche Bank official disgraced by financial ties to Hitler; and dictator Siad Barre of Somalia, plus a list of other generals and dictators. Clinton, says Schenck, has become a regular visitor to Coe’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters, a former convent where Coe provides members of Congress with sex-segregated housing and spiritual guidance.