"SABOTAGE!" "Half-truths!" "Dirty tricks!"

When politicians start talking like that, you know either that something is terribly underhanded is going on or that somebody is making a big fuss over nothing. At issue here is what the Democrats call an attempt "to sabotage our fund-raising effort" and what the Republicans call an attempt "to counter-attack "to counter-attack the unfair Democrat telethon."

The telethon, sponsored by the Democratic National Committee, is scheduled to appear on NBC next Friday and Saturday. Various entertainers and politicians (described by the Republicans as "Hollywood left-wingers likely to appear should-to-shoulder with liberal kingpins") will engourage viewers to send contributions to the Democratic Party. This is a legal fund-raising effort, designed to help the democrats catch up with the Republicans in raising money from large numbers of small contributors.

The Democrats also plan to encourgage callers to give their opinions of Reagan administration policies, and it is this that the Republicans, if you can believe a letter they sent to thousands of their suppporters, consider dirty pool. The Democrats, they say, are planning -- get this -- to "use half-truths, slanted information and distorded man-on-the-street interviews to attack and insult President Reagan and Republicans in House and Senate." Zounds! In an appropriately overheated and unpersuasive response, Democratic National Chairman Charles Manatt said the Republicans were "going back into the dirty tricks bag again," and added portentously that "this Republican dirty trick comes in the same week that the Republican president pardoned a Watergate figure." With equal relevance he might have pointed out that it comes just seven weeks before the birthday of Gerald Ford, who pardoned Richard Nixon.

Will brave Republicans call the Democratic lines and voice support for a beleaguered president? Will the Democrats, who have added 300 to 500 phone lines, be able to keep enough lines open to communicate with their loyalists? Stay tuned. In the meantime, let's savor the echoes of old rhetoric -- the grim predictions that the opposition will actually criticize the president, the fearful cries of dirty tricks and sabotage. It reminds us of the adage that history tends to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.