L. William Seidman, blunt chairman of the Resolution Trust Corp., the elegant name for the S&L bailout, described his job to a rapt audience at the International Platform Association as "undertaker, tax-collector and garbage man -- any one of those is all right, but together. . . . "

Nonetheless, he appears to be willing to soldier on, despite the fact that for months the White House has been hinting that his departure is imminent. His crime? He has insisted that the bailout will cost money, and once suggested that a fee from insured depositors might be required.

Seidman is metaphorically as well as actually on crutches. He lost an argument with a horse in New Mexico. But he has many fans, especially on Capitol Hill where his straight-shooting is much appreciated. He is a veteran of Washington wars, having served in the Ford White House, and the White House obviously thought it was getting a team player. Alas, he turned out to be an independent with a bristling care for his reputation as an honest man.

"I don't know when I will leave," he told a knot of listeners who followed him out of the Mayflower ballroom and stood for 15 minutes asking him more questions. "I'm fed up with these leaks from {White House Chief of Staff} John Sununu. I told him, 'For every leak from you, I'm going to stay an extra month.' "

The rush to be rid of him is somewhat baffling, since he is the best known and most respected administration player in the S&L quagmire.

Says Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who specializes in S&Ls, "They should be down on their knees begging him to stay on, but instead they are sniping at him."

Seidman's tenure is suffused with the rancor that marks all aspects of the S&L mess. The nation's governors, assembled in Mobile, Ala., got into a furious row over an ad in a local paper that showed former House speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and former Democratic majority leader Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) and a caption blaming them for letting "the S&L problem explode into a $325 billion national crisis."

That celebrated non-reactor, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, was the first to rage against "this kind of garbage. We had enough of it in 1988."

Some measure of the national rage was visible at the Mayflower, where Seidman was asked repeatedly how a furious electorate could punish the malefactors. He told them that the mess was pretty much their own fault. They had elected people to Congress who insured deposits without regulating banks. One man demanded a list, which of course would include large representations from both parties. Democrats insisted on guarantees, Republicans on deregulation.

They applauded when one questioner said fiercely that "the thieves and crooks should be forced for the rest of their lives to pay back."

Seidman told them ruefully of Texans who have taken their S&L winnings and invested them in houses that cost between $10 million and $12 million and cannot be seized because of a state law that forbids taking a home in a judgment.

Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.) thinks Texas should be punished for its greed and has introduced a bill that would require Texas to pay an additional insurance premium of $2.8 billion. His reasoning is that it has cost $21 billion to clean up state-chartered Lone Star thrifts, while states of the Northeast-Midwest region cost only $1.3 billion. Texas, of course, lifted restrictions from state-chartered and federally insured S&Ls.

Seidman was asked if the massive amounts being used to scrub the S&Ls did not amount to a "tremendous transfer payment from the North of the country to the South."

"In a way it is, and in a way it isn't," said Seidman. "The money is going to depositors from all over the country, some of whom simply gave their money to Merrill Lynch for deposit."

Wolpe says it doesn't matter where the money came from but where it was spent. Texas S&Ls were used as private banks by high-rolling developers.

One thoroughly exercised woman said she didn't mind paying taxes to run the country, "but what I want to know is why the taxpayers have to pay the tab for people cheating."

This is a sentiment that is heard all over the land in the current campaign season, and it makes incumbents shudder.

Seidman said none of it would have happened if bureaucrats had read the Bible, Proverbs 11:15: "Who insures a stranger will surely suffer for it."