Just at a surface level, the idea of Paul Ryan stopping by a soup kitchen is strange, if not ridiculous. The right-wing congressman, a proud admirer of Ayn Rand's philosophy, no doubt sees soup kitchens as outlets that create dependency. This is, after all, the "don't simply feed fish" guy.
Indeed, his extremist ideology drove Ryan to write the radical House Republican budget plan, which would be deliberately brutal towards the very people who rely on charity and public benefits to get by.
But given this background, it took real chutzpah for Ryan to show up at an Ohio soup kitchen, smile for the cameras, and pretend to do real work. The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez reported that Ryan and his team "ramrodded their way" into a kitchen over the weekend so he could manufacture a photo-op.
Brian J. Antal, president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society, said that he was not contacted by the Romney campaign ahead of the Saturday morning visit by Ryan, who stopped by the soup kitchen after a town hall at Youngstown State University.
"We're a faith-based organization; we are apolitical because the majority of our funding is from private donations," Antal said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "It's strictly in our bylaws not to do it. They showed up there, and they did not have permission. They got one of the volunteers to open up the doors."
He added: "The photo-op they did wasn't even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall."
By the time Ryan showed up for his impromptu, 15-minute visit, he was too late -- according to the Post's report, the hall had already been cleaned after the food had been served and the patrons had left. But Ryan wanted to look good for the cameras, and walking around an empty soup kitchen wouldn't make much of an impact.
So Ryan put on an apron and volunteered to wash some dishes, though he ended up "washing pots and pans that did not appear to be dirty." Antal added that he was discouraged about letting Ryan "wash clean pans, and then take a picture."
Like most Romney/Ryan attempts to appear compassionate towards the less fortunate -- folks Mitt Romney himself condemned in his infamous "47 percent" video -- the photo-op was just for show.
Update: According to NBC News reporters on the scene, it turns out there were some dirty dishes, left for the congressman by a volunteer to clean as part of the photo-op. Alex Moe and Betsy Cline have more on the details that were not included in the original Washington Post report.