In case you haven't heard the story, the other day Paul Ryan's team thought it would be a good idea to show his compassionate side, so they had him show up at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio to help out. The only problem was that lunch had already been served, the patrons were all gone, and everything had been cleaned up. Undeterred, Ryan and his wife donned aprons and proceeded to wash pots for the cameras, despite the fact that the pots they were washing appeared to have already been washed. The head of the charity that runs the soup kitchen was a bit perturbed about the whole thing, saying later, "Had they asked for permission, it wouldn't have been granted. … But I certainly wouldn't have let him wash clean pans, and then take a picture."
Yes, this came in for plenty of ridicule. But let me rise to Ryan's defense. The fact that the pots did not actually need washing doesn't make this much more phony than the typical candidate photo op, where the candidate pretends to be "helping" for a few minutes but actually does little but create trouble for everyone; as they say on "Free to Be You And Me," some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without. Everything candidates do, particularly this close to an election, is manufactured and artificial, undertaken only for the purpose of being photographed and written about. If tomorrow Paul Ryan goes to paint a Habitat for Humanity house or deliver Meals on Wheels, it won't be any more genuine. And the truth is, by coming when nobody was there, he did that soup kitchen a favor.