An article yesterday incorrectly reported that as a U.S. senator, James L. Buckley, now a nominee for a U.S. Court of Appeals seat here, raised questions about the nomination of former House member Abner Mikva to the court in 1979. Buckley left the Senate in 1977.

When the families of the "forgotten hostages" finally got in to see President Reagan on Monday evening and begged him to negotiate the release of the six Americans still being held in Lebanon, he said, "No way -- there's no way we are going to deal."

That is what every head of state always says. But then they always make a deal. There is, in fact, no other way. Just ask Jose Napoleon Duarte, the president of El Salvador, who has just freed some 118 of his enemies in exchange for the return of his daughter, Ines, and 33 mayors.

Or ask the Israelis, who last April traded 1,150 Palestinians for three Israeli prisoners of war.

Ask Bettino Craxi, the once and probably future prime minister of Italy, who jumped at the chance offered by Egypt, which was talking with the Palestine Liberation Organization, to let the hijackers of the Achille Lauro go free.

Or, for that matter, ask Reagan, who, while vowing never to negotiate, was more than happy to persuade Israel to send back Shiite prisoners in return for the deliverance of 39 Americans hijacked on TWA Flight 847.

At the White House, the families were asked, in effect, if they were willing to sacrifice six lives to principle.

"This is my Dad," protested Eric Jacobsen, whose father, David, administrator of the American University Hospital in West Beirut, has been held since May.

That's the problem. Governments have to say that making deals only encourages terrorists and endangers many more lives than those of the immediate victims.

But the victim is always related to someone on the outside who cannot see the forest for the one beloved tree.

Whether Reagan is, in fact and behind the scenes, ready to accede to the demand of the Beirut terrorists -- that Shiite prisoners being held in Kuwait (and for good reason) be released -- is not known. But the families were encouraged that after months of asking, they got Reagan's ear and had two hours with national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane on Monday night.

The best thing that happened to the hostages was the seizure of TWA Flight 847. During the general euphoria over the release of the 39, the families finally managed to get a little attention by reminding the public that there were still seven Americans (including the Rev. Benjamin Weir, who was still held then) in terrorist hands. Some rather shame-faced press coverage ensued.

Cable News Network correspondent Jeremy Levin, who was held by Shiites from March 7, 1984, to last Feb. 14, was speaking to a somber meeting of the Committee to Protect Journalists at the National Press Club, while the families were at the White House.

"How many hostages does it take to make a crisis?" he asked sardonically. "Ten? Twenty? Thirty-nine? Certainly not seven."

The political folly of harping on a hostage crisis was devastatingly shown by Jimmy Carter, whose conspicuous mourning over the Iran hostages cost him the presidency. With the seven, Reagan went to the opposite extreme, never noticing them. And yet a U.S. diplomat, William Buckley, was kidnaped 19 months ago and recently was reported dead. It's the sort of thing that usually makes Reagan's blood boil.

His silence was echoed by the news media and Congress, and the families -- until the TWA uproar -- got the fast shuffle.

Carol Weir, wife of the Presbyterian minister, said she thought it was a "good idea to scream." Her husband was released last month.

"Sis Levin screamed and I screamed, and our husbands are both out," she noted quietly.

They both "screamed" that the United States should reexamine "the root causes of terrorism." Sis Levin spent the month of November in Damascus last year. She told Syria's foreign minster and other government officials that her journalist husband would be of more help to the cause of Mideast peace outside than inside.

"The only thing coming out of the administration was violent rhetoric and talk of preemptive strikes against terrorists, nothing about the mistakes in U.S. policy. I talked to them about dialogue and exchanges," she reports.

At the Committee to Protect Journalists meeting, Charles Lewis of the Associated Press told of Terry Anderson, the 38-year-old Mideast correspondent for the Associated Press. The Rev. Weir, who met fellow hostages last July, reported how "very angry" Anderson is at being held captive.

But it's only when the American public gets angry, too, that the dealing, which will be denied, will begin, and he and his fellow captives will be free.