"It certainly was an issue, absolutely," McEleney replies. "Whenever you do an historical play, you have to come at it with a little bit of humility in saying, 'They're not us. How do we enter into their minds?' "

Fortunately, he notes, Miller did a lot of preparatory work for them, basing his play on extensive research that included a sound grasp of the psychology of the time. "He was doing it about 1952, when all his friends were being dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he was finding a way to say that was then and this is now and yet they are exactly the same."

Public sentiment is volatile, changeable. The conventional wisdom today can seem foolishness tomorrow.

"The Democrats had this incredible mandate only two years ago, an overwhelming victory, and then it just turned," McEleney observes. "And that's what happened to the Puritans. It all happened within the space of two months, this madness. And then it was over."

And all the country could do was try, though perhaps fail, to learn something as a people.

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