The national passion for John F. Kennedy and his brief presidency stands in sharp contrast to the widespread boredom that marked much of this year's presidential election.

Not because Kennedy was a great president. History and historians have judged him to be mediocre. Despite the romantic aura of "Camelot," dispassionate observers note that his presidency failed to bring any real reform. Kennedy couldn't get even one of his civil rights bills through Congress.But he spoke of hope and change - and the nation genuinely believed it.

The national sense of loss over the death of that hope, the passing of "Camelot," has not receded with time. Last week, the onslaught of magazine features, newspaper articles and news programs began. Networks aired old file tapes of Kennedy: Kennedy's inauguration speech; Kennedy explaining to the press the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Kennedy playing with Caroline in the Oval Office. Most national magazines sport pictures of Kennedy on their cover. Life magazine devoted an entire anniversary issue to Kennedy.

And the country couldn't seem to get enough. Americans watched the TV shows, bought the magazines and read every newspaper article they could find.

There's more than reminiscence there. There's a longing for something - someone - to believe in.

Americans apparently feel like they haven't had that "someone" for a long time. A national poll released last week revealed that most Americans believe the man they just selected to be their next president will do, at best, an average job. A Nov. 16 Gallup poll showed that nearly one-third of those who voted would have registered a vote of "no confidence" in either candidate if they had been given that choice.

The cynicism isn't new. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter vied for office, nearly 40 percent of voters said the same thing.

Some fear apathy and cynicism have hardened into a permanent shell with the passage of years, scandals, and shallow campaigns.

But this week's look to the past suggests that isn't so. If the country can still look back with such yearning, it is clearly a country eager to believe and hope again.