At a time when Americans seem disenchanted with their government, when Congress and the White House are struggling to redefine the role of the public sector, it helps to pause and honor the heroic and transcendent figures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

These men, honored on Presidents Day, are reminders that all government is not bad and that good, competent people can rise above the petty temptations that beset politicians. Both Washington and Lincoln earned enduring fame for the manner in which they handled crises and for the way they refused to compromise the nation's future.But even those achievements wouldn't have had much lasting value without the underlying threads of honesty, humility and humanity that were woven through the fabric of their entire lives. Those qualities, nurtured through time and under the dull drudgery of everyday life, helped these men rise to the occasions when the very survival of the nation was in doubt.

The nation's leaders face a crisis of a different sort today. Opinion polls show Americans have little confidence in the character of their leaders. Last November's election demonstrated the extent of the displeasure.

Politicians and voters alike would do well to study the lives and the characters of Washington and Lincoln. When more people start living lives of virtue and probity, many of the nation's other problems will take care of themselves.