Rahm Emmanuel calls that "small ball" and he's right--small issues that won't impact American history, but do improve the quality of life for many Americans. There again, how the Democrats enact those legislative items will dictate how the public perceives them. One must admit that the Democrats will have some "honeymoon' period or legislative grace session, because this year was more a referendum on the Administration and Congress. Therefore, if Democrats do move left, the electorate will still have fresh in their minds the thought: "well, they're still not as bad as the Republicans."
Further, I suspect the Democrats will emphasize the same message points that Dean & Co. used election night--"first things first, root out the corruption and mismanagement of this administration and Congress..." In other words, they'll spend the next 18 months holding hearings, all in the name of "hey, we need to figure out how bad and deep the Republicans messed up..." and my fear is the electorate may be inclined to give them the latitude. So every time they head into a Democrat controlled policy agenda, and the public dislikes it, they can always stop, and blame the Republicans. You will recall that former Virginia Governor Mark Warner did it in Virginia when he tried to tinker with the economy/tax base. When the General Assembly pushed back the Governor, he just blamed the previous Republican administration and emphatically stated he was trying to clean up Gilmore's mess. The Democrats are the best at this, and the Fourth Estate will be all too eager to help write that story.
What can Republicans do while the Democrats attempt to run the House? Roll over and revel in the fact that their in the minority? No. There is a school of thought by Dick Armey and others that this leadership lost its way when it spent more time on social conservative issues like gay marriage and forgot about the libertarians and economic conservatives--camps where more and more independents are headed these days. The high water mark of this movement was Terry Schiavo-where congress got involved when many felt they should not have.
Look at the economy - stock market up 18% for the year, and not many of our voters knew about it. Government spending is the sleeping giant that could spell defeat for Democrats in the coming years if they don't seriously make an effort to rein in spending. There again, they'll blame this President and Congress, but they will bear the brunt of the blame if they fail and don't achieve resounding results in this area. That's where Republicans have their best chance to lead. They lost their entire lead on the generic ballot for which the party can do a better job controlling spending and improving the economy; and unless they get serious about that in a long-term way, we will stay in the minority.