First the the left and the great majority of people in the political center do owe Barry a debt of gratitude. His 1964 presidential campaign led to an overwhelming victory for the Democrats, particularly the Northern liberal labor Democrats, broke the power of the conservative coalition to veto legislation in Congress (a power that they had gained when they stalemated the New Deal after the 1938 elections) and made possible legislation like Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, serious federal aid to education, the first national environmental protection legislation, and other programs under the rubric of the "Great Society" which Lyndon Johnson proclaimed to be the goal of his administration in the spring of 1964, a "Great Society "whose major military endeavor would be to fight a an "unconditional" domestic war against poverty.
Barry helped make all of this possible by denouncing the TVA in Tennessee, Social Security which he dreamed of privatizing in Florida, and in general associating himself with expanding the war in Vietnam, possibly giving field commanders the "right" to use "tactical nuclear weapons" without Washington's authorization, and in general making what was the greatest political commercial ever used in a presidential election by the Democrats, the little girl in the field as the nuclear countdown began, something that tens of millions of Americans saw as a real possibility. we should remember that this contemporary "founding father" of the ultra-right once said that we could end the cold war by lobbing a hand grenade into the men's room at the Kremlin (if he meant this as a joke, he said it too soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis for anyone in his or her right mind to take it as a joke)
Would that the GOP, now that they have fully embraced Barry's philosophy and added fundamentalist theology(which to be fair to him Barry never espoused) would run a candidate in Barry's image in 2008, a candidate who would call for repeal of the minimum wage laws and the establishment of federal "right to work" legislation as a way to deal with the economic crisis, turn the FTC, SEC, and FCC into faith based voluntary agencies, and give the Department of Homeland Security the right to use tactical nuclear weapons to fight terrorism in the United States. That would truly honor Barry's memory by making his and the right wing Republican defeat in 1964 look like a victory compared to the political carnage that they would face in 2008.
There are a few serious points (not so much about Barry but about the policies that led to the establishment of right-wing political power in the 1980s) that should be raised if one is to understand why Barry is today seen, at least compared to Bush W and Ronald Reagan, as a lesser of evils.
Lyndon Johnson squandered the enormous victory that Barry's campaign gave him by escalating the Vietnam War, which Barry had promised to do and he had promised not to do, compromising his Great Society program, dividing his party, and enabling the Republicans to regroup around "law and order" themes and develop the "Southern strategy" that turned the segregationist white supremacy Democratic "solid South" into the present post segregation Republican "solid South." Richard Nixon carried forward these strategies, Ronald Reagan perfected and consolidated them in not only reviving the conservative coalition but giving the ultra-right virtual hegemony in that coalition (which with the addition of the "new" fundamentalist religious right became a political machine with rightwing churches becoming de facto political clubs) and Bush W has led this ultra right political machine which controls the Republican party into far reaching disasters for the American people and the people of the world.
Given subsequent events (let us raise the serious question of historical relativism) one can cherry pick from Barry's career and see him, given his ability at times to put down his sword and support the Bill of Rights and his keeping the fundamentalist religious right at arms length, as better than those that are currently in power, just as some sophist scholars pasted together some of Richard Nixon's domestic economic policies to see him as "the last liberal" president of the U.S (an interpretation which in the Hell that he is surely in if there is an afterlife, he would deny to the devil, tapes or no tapes).
The only way to ensure an end to the the now nearly forty year vicious cycle of reaction, Democratic Party appeasement of reaction, and further reaction that makes the reactionaries of the past look better than the reactionaries of the present, is to have the political equivalent of a real "New Deal," to create a new political alignment that will advance labor, progressive civil rights and civil liberties programs, dismantling the Military Industrial Complex at least as much as the Goldwater-Nixon-Reagan-Bush HW and Bush W forces dismantled the old New Deal nad the never consolidated great society programs.
The only way to accomplish that is to strengthen and advance peoples movements in the next year to the point that even Hillary Clinton, who was a Goldwater girl in 1964 (as the daughter of a wealthy reactionary Illinois businessman that wasn't so remarkable) and the present front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, will have little choice but to advance such a program.
P.S. Barry, for me, did have one shining moment which, in the ecumenical spirit, deserves to me remembered on this Christmas day. He was once denied membership in an exclusive Arizona Country Club because his father had been born Jewish (what ingrates, after everything that Barry, who was raised an Episcopalian, had done for the class that belongs to country clubs). Barry lifted a line from Groucho Marx(the only "Marxist" he ever knew about) and said that since he was only half Jewish, would they let him play nine holes of golf!