President Joe Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia's economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington. Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

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President Joe Biden is, and always has been, something of a political chameleon. In looking at his more than four decades of public service, it is nearly impossible to identify a clear and deeply held ideological point of view. In evaluating his policy ideas, one trend, above all, seems to define him: Biden’s perception of what will result in him acquiring and keeping power.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, American conservatism was ascendent, and the only left-wing successes belonged to people like Bill Clinton, who adopted policies mimicking Ronald Reagan on issues like the economy and crime.

And wouldn’t you know it, at the time Biden was a Blue Dog Democrat. Back then, when fiscal responsibility was actually popular, he twice bucked his party to support a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, saying in a 1995 floor speech, “whatever happened to the old conservative discipline about paying for what you spend?”

Indeed, what happened? Because Biden today is unhinged when it comes to spending, continuing to prattle on about “building back better” by spending trillions of dollars we do not have.

That isn’t the only shocking flip-flop on policy. He also famously spearheaded the crime bill, ultimately signed by President Clinton in 1994. This was meant to convince the American people that Democrats were serious about getting tough on crime, which at the time seemed to have overtaken American life.

Today, though, the political winds have changed. Now, given the progressive takeover of his party and the belief among left-wing activists that such policies contributed to mass incarceration in the Black community, his support of the crime bill became a problem. In response, Biden twisted himself into knots on the issue, saying that the bill was a “mistake.”

But tracking the various ideological about-faces is not just an exercise across the decades. Sometimes — oftentimes — it takes place over the course of weeks, or even days, as we’ve seen many times in Biden’s young administration.

Take, for instance, the issue of importing oil from Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine. Almost immediately, bipartisan voices in the U.S. Senate and beyond called on Biden to block the importation of Russian oil, seeking to stop American dollars from fueling the Russian war machine.

The Biden administration refused, however. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, “we don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy.”

Americans, though, very much disagreed. In a Quinnipiac University poll published Monday, 71 percent of Americans said they would support a ban on Russian oil even if the result was higher gasoline prices. This was followed up by a Wall Street Journal poll showing that a whopping 79 percent of respondents said that they favored a ban, even if the price at the pump went up.

Next thing you know, the administration announces that they think importing Russian oil is a bad idea after all, and will be banning imports.

Of course, making sense of Biden on oil is a fool’s errand. Since taking office, he has taken a historically hostile approach to fossil fuels for domestic energy production, instead trying to use his authority to push certain favored energy producers such as wind and solar.

Yet after seeing the crushing increase in the price of gasoline in the United States — spiking 11 cents in one day and 24 cents in one week in Maine — Biden’s response to this crisis has been to grovel to the Saudis, begging them unsuccessfully to increase oil production, while considering easing sanctions on the Russian-backed Maduro government in Venezuela, to encourage them to sell more oil on the open market.

So, let me get this straight: American oil production is bad, Saudi and Venezuelan oil production is good. Got it.

In the end, his confusing, convoluted, incoherent approach to energy is just the latest example of Biden’s eternal search for popularity and power. This is the enduring lesson of not just the Biden presidency, but his entire career. Whatever he thinks he needs to be to make you notice him, he will be. Whatever he thinks he will need to say to get power, he will say. Whatever he thinks he needs to do to keep power, he will do.

Most politicians do this to some extent, but Biden has turned it into an art form. Just beware, if you find him agreeing with you, it will likely only be for as long as public opinion dictates as much. The moment he sees the benefit in changing his mind, he will.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...