For the last month, I haven’t written a column about anything other than the terrorist attack on America.

And with good reason. Very little that has happened since then measures up in significance. Ordinary tragedies just don’t seem that meaningful – even when they are close to home – compared with our loss on Sept. 11. Stories that would have been screamers prior to that date might make page 2, but certainly aren’t worthy of a full-blown commentary.

This is an exception.

An American institution – and a man I will always consider a friend – announced on national radio yesterday that he is going stone-cold deaf. And, for the life of me, I just can’t think of anything else but Rush Limbaugh.

So, pardon me if I devote this time and space as a tribute to a man who has done more for the causes of liberty, free enterprise, individual rights, limited government and just plain common sense over nearly a decade and a half than any president, any politician, any author, any statesman or any other individual in American life.

I first got to know Rush Limbaugh in 1990, when I took over the editorship of the venerable Sacramento Union, the oldest daily newspaper west of the Mississippi. The paper was in trouble. It had faced declines in circulation for more than a decade. The competition was beating its brains out.

I looked around the town for a person who had his finger on the pulse of the community – someone who was loved by Sacramentans, someone who could help us in our mission of saving the paper. I remember walking down the street one summer day and hearing Rush Limbaugh’s relatively new national show from an open car window radio. As I walked down the street, I could easily hear the whole show because every single car in a long line of backed up traffic was tuned to Rush.

I had found my man! Rush had launched his daily show in Sacramento. In his own words, he owned the town. And he wasn’t exaggerating.

I took a shot and called Rush – never really thinking I’d get him. But he graciously took my call and agreed almost on the spot to do a column for the paper. It turned into a daily column – on the front page.

And it, more than anything else I did in that town, turned around the sliding circulation. Suddenly, we were inundated with fans who wanted the paper to read Rush. Like me, they couldn’t get enough of this man who said things so well – who entertained them and educated them simultaneously

I am forever indebted.

But, then, years later, I had the opportunity to work with Rush as a collaborator on his best-selling book, “See, I Told You So.” It was a labor of love. He was a perfect gentleman. It was an honor to work with him – the man I refer to as “The Great One,” because his entertainment instincts are comparable to the other man known as “Great One” in the entertainment industry, the late, great Jackie Gleason.

Rush’s timing is impeccable. His impersonations hysterical. Rush Limbaugh is simply one of the greatest entertainers on the planet today. But he is more than that. He is a multi-talented broadcast professional.

This is what the Rush Limbaugh skeptics do not understand. Rush is much bigger than a conservative political analyst. He’s a great broadcaster who happens to be a conservative. I don’t agree with Rush on everything. I sometimes passionately disagree. But he makes me think, and he makes me laugh.

What else can you ask for? Rush, in my mind, for all his success, is one of the least understood media personalities in the world. Many in the national media see only his political views. They are missing the forest for the trees. Rush is a genius – a comic genius and a gifted talk-radio prodigy.

I hope you will all join me in praying for a full recovery for Rush Limbaugh – praying for a miraculous cure to his ailment. This is not just a personal tragedy for Rush. It’s a national tragedy if it prevents him or hampers him from doing what he does so well – making us laugh, making us think, making us optimistic, giving us hope.

Rush, there are lots of us out here in America who love you – and will always love you, not just for what you do for us, but for what you have done for our country.

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