There has been a controversy for many, many years over the conservative movement’s manipulation of the New York Times’ bestseller list to create the impression of massive popularity of their wingnutty ideas among the public. This is not to say that right-wingers don’t ever legitimately sell books. They do, of course. But all you have to do is look at the sheer number of these books that are published to see that something else is going on. It is called “wingnut welfare.”
Paul Krugman gave the best definition for this phenomenon:
[T]he lavishly-funded ecosystem of billionaire-financed think tanks, media outlets, and so on provides a comfortable cushion for politicians and pundits who tell [right wing] people what they want to hear. Lose an election, make economic forecasts that turn out laughably wrong, whatever — no matter, there’s always a fallback job available.
Goldwater had written a major bestselling book four years earlier called “The Conscience of a Conservative,” which had electrified the right and went on to become a massive success, particularly among young conservatives who considered it their political bible. There had been a serious hunger among these folks for a book that set out what they saw as conservative principles, written in an accessible way, and this book was it.
“Conscience” was actually ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell II, William F. Buckley’s brother-in-law and a senior editor at National Review, who had been one of Goldwater’s speech writers. According to movement lore, Goldwater perfunctorily thumbed through the book once it was finished and said to run with it. It was the beginning of a very lucrative conservative racket, even if, in this case, the book was a genuine runaway hit. It showed the way for a whole genre of political books aimed specifically at conservative readers.
In 1964 came one of the first big bestsellers in this new genre, “A Choice Not an Echo,” by an ambitious activist by the name of Phyllis Schlafly who helped organize Republican women into clubs, an organizing tactic later adopted by the conservative movement as a whole. Historian Rick Perlstein amusingly illustrated the phenomenon of the engaged suburban movement conservative of the time with this quote:
“I just don’t have time for anything,” a housewife told a news magazine. “I’m fighting Communism three nights a week.”