John V. Lindsay, a political star of the 1960s who dropped out in the 1970s, announced today he would like to spend the 1980s in the U.S. Senate.

With more harsh words for President Carter, the leader of his party, than for Sen. Jacob K. Javits, the Republican he is trying to unseat, and an anti-Washington speech reminiscent of Carter's 1976 campaign, Lindsay formally plunged back into politics.

He brings with him the high name recognition from his two terms as New York City mayor, four terms in Congress and one spectacularly unsuccessful stab at running for president.

Lindsay also, for many New Yorkers, is the politician who led New York City to the financial abyss from which it is still struggling to recover.

The former mayor, still handsome at 58 countered the suggestion that he led New York to ruin by saying, "I believe the quality of life in New York City was better than it is now."

In a time when politicians speak glumly of having to divide shrinking resources among competing interests, Lindsay spoke, without specifics, of reversing this trend.

"The politics of scarcity, perpetuated by the federal government -- which pits the poor against the middle class, making each the scapegoat for the other -- is cynical, deceptive and ultimately suicidal," he said.

He accused the federal government of failing to lead. "It follows helplessly behind, trying to keep up with events and public opinion polls," Lindsay said.

The former Republican who became a Democrat in 1971 said that although he has not endorsed Carter or Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for president he will support the Democratic nominee because any would be better than Ronald Reagan.

Lindsay pointed out that as mayor he hired both his current rivals for the Senate nomination - Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman and former Miss America Bess Myerson. "But for that they wouldn't be running for the Senate today," he said.

He described himself as an underdog in the three-way primary. He is certainly behind in raising money. Two weeks ago, Lindsay had reported raising about $94,000 while Myerson had reported $290,000 and Holtzman $541,000.

Lindsay has been testing the water for his political return about a year. Initially, he spent a lot of time traveling upstate New York where he is less well-known and reported meeting with friendly receptions.

For the more than six years he has been out of politics, Lindsay has tried his hand at several things. He has practiced international law, has been a television commentator and has written a novel.

He also once wrote an article entitled "The Narcotic of Power" and he has made it clear that being on the political sidelines has left him dissatisfied.

Lindsay accused Carter of vacillating on foreign affairs in an effort to win votes in primary states. "Our foreign policy leaves us embarrassed and angry every day," he said.

Asked what advice he would give the president on the hostage crisis in Iran, Lindsay replied he would counsel "sure-handedness, but not panic."